Olympia High School Club “Bear Crew Two” Connects Students, Creates Community

olympia high school
Bear Crew Two members sell greeting cards for fundraising at Olympia High School's Bearzaar.


By Sara Hollar, Olympia High School Intern to ThurstonTalk

putnam lieb logoNavigating high school can be a difficult time for any teen, which makes it imperative for youth to find a system of support and a sense of belonging during these years. Students with developmental disabilities are no exception. Often separated in school from teens in general education, special education or life skills students face unique challenges when it comes to connecting with their peers.

At Olympia High School, students and teachers are looking to combat these challenges with Bear Crew Two, a club that focuses on creating friendships between life skills and general education students. The club meets during Olympia High’s Wednesday morning late start time. At these meetings, members share stories, eat doughnuts, do small projects and plan the club’s next monthly activity. Monthly activities such as bowling, seeing a movie or having a pizza party, allow the students to interact outside of school. Though the club is only a few years old, it has grown exponentially to include a diverse group of life skills and general education students.

olympia high school
Students in Bear Crew Two work on a project during a Wednesday late start meeting.

Bear Crew Two started in the 2010-2011 school year as the brainchild of Olympia High School Principal Matt Grant and then-senior Mae Boettcher. Mae’s sister, Anya Boettcher, who was starting at OHS as freshman that year, has Down Syndrome.  Mae wanted Anya and other students with developmental disabilities to have the opportunity to build relationships with general education students at school.

“At the very beginning I was really nervous but when I got used to it I thought it was really cool and all the kids were awesome,” Anya remembers.

Over the past four years, the format of Bear Crew Two has changed as the members learn what works best. Marion Sheridan knows this better than anyone else. She is one of the teachers who supervises the club and has been a part of Bear Crew Two since its inception.

“The first year we didn’t have outside activities or maybe we had one, like a pizza party at school and then going over to a basketball game. Also, the first year or two we had lunch buddies, where students would sit

together during lunch but we didn’t know if that was effective,” Sheridan explains.  “We had a few years doing activities every two or three months and then we committed to doing an activity every month.”

olympia high school
Abbey and Andrew get all dressed up for last year’s Life Skills prom. The 2014 event is set for May 23.

The club started small with only a handful of students but has now grown to around 25 members. Sophomore Abbey Daniels-Brown is one of the main leaders of the club, along with Anya Boettcher. Daniels-Brown joined the club last year and immediately loved it.

“I want to work with special education kids and I want to be a special education teacher.  Bear Crew Two helps me to be more understanding,” Daniels-Brown explains.

Knowledge of the club has spread mostly from person to person. Members end up telling their friends because they are passionate about the positive impact it has on their school. Freshman Sophie Parker heard about Bear Crew Two from a friend’s mom who thought it would be something she would enjoy.

“I went to one of the meetings and I just kept going. I thought it was really cool. I’ve met a lot of new people and done some really fun projects,” Parker says.

Once students get involved with Bear Crew Two they find many reasons to keep coming back. This is Ellie Schaefer’s second year in the club. She spent one class period a day in eighth grade working with the special education students at Washington Middle School. She enjoyed that experience and it prompted her to join Bear Crew Two at OHS. In the future, Ellie wants to combine her two passions, music and interacting with people with developmental disabilities, to become a music therapist.

“It’s important for us to see life skills students as real people. They’re really not that much different than general education students. They have their hobbies and interests and things they love and things they hate. You can always find something that you have in common to talk about,” Schaefer remarks.

After talking with students involved in Bear Crew Two, it’s easy to see that the club is an influential experience for all. For the life skills students the opportunity to interact with other students at their school is invaluable. The general education students also benefit incredibly. The club opens them up to interacting with different people, making new friends and creating a strong community at school.

olympia high school
Bear Crew Two members sell greeting cards for fundraising at Olympia High School’s Bearzaar.

“Our students with developmental disabilities get some guaranteed time with same age peers and get to participate in fun activities which some of them don’t get to do very much. The connection at school is also important. It helps our students feel more involved when they see a buddy in the hallway and have that feeling of belonging and know they have a friend at school,” Sheridan says. “It’s also really good for the buddies because they get to learn about being with students with developmental disabilities which helps broaden their way of thinking and consider what it’s like to live with a disability.”

Daniels-Brown agrees, “It helps with unity. A lot of times at schools the special education kids will be made fun of or picked on or separated but Bear Crew Two helps bring everyone together. I think it teaches a lot about how to love everyone.”

That’s the main purpose of Bear Crew Two. It’s about teens reaching out to each other in friendship to make their time in high school a better experience. Everyone involved hopes that the club remains at OHS for years to come. They realize the power it has to be a positive part of people’s lives.

“I’m leaving next year but I hope they continue on and have a good leader. I hope they keep getting to know each other and going to the events,” Anya Boettcher states.

Both life skills and general education students agree that Bear Crew Two has a valuable place at OHS.

“Bear Crew Two gives off this energy where you walk in and you feel accepted and happy and everyone is just so excited to see you,” says Schaefer. “ It’s full of really kind people. It’s the kindest people that come and join this group and I enjoy everything about it.”

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