SHREWSBURY – In front of hundreds of fifth- and sixth-graders at Sherwood Middle School, Shrewsbury High School (SHS) sophomores Hardika Patel and Peyton Duke shared stories of acceptance and inclusion with their younger peers.
Patel, who is a member of the SHS Trivia Team and a peer mentor in the school’s United Sound program, discussed the importance of creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels accepted.
“I cannot stress just how important it is to create an inclusive world… [the world] has so many problems, and it’s our job to come together as a community and build these bonds between people,” Patel said.
Duke, who is an active participant in the school’s Unified Sports program and also plays field hockey and lacrosse, recalled her experience with Jenny, a SHS classmate who has Down Syndrome.
“Throughout the season, I felt a close friendship with Jenny,” Duke said. “We had a special pre-game handshake, and we always sat on the bus to away games together… she took the time to teach me sign language on the bus so I’d have the ability to communicate with other athletes who are non-verbal.”
Duke explained how her friendship with Jenny inspired her to do more. Last field hockey season, Duke worked with the SHS coaches to develop an assistant manager position for Jenny.
“Jenny led our team in high-fives and fist bumps after each home game… she stormed the field with us when [the varsity team] won… she was one of us… you could see it on the field and definitely feel it if you’re part of the team,” Duke explained.
Throughout the speech, Duke emphasized how easy and impactful being inclusive and accepting can be.
“Sometimes it’s a word of encouragement, introducing yourself to someone new, or a smile… that leaves a lasting impression. Small acts of inclusion are powerful and you never know which act will be that magical moment for someone else. Every person in this room has the ability to create this magic. [Everyone] has the power to make someone feel seen, heard, included, and accepted,” she said.
In a statement given to the Community Advocate, Assistant Superintendent for Community Partnerships and Well-Being Jane Lizotte noted how Patel and Duke “exemplify the core values of our school communities by meaningfully seeking ways to contribute positively to the lives of others.”
“They make a difference each and every day. Their individual and collective commitment to make the world a better place through teaching and learning is absolutely phenomenal,” she said.