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Black Hawks form friendship with preschool buddies

Black Hawks form friendship with preschool buddies
Wide eyes watch Williams Field High School junior Max Fine as he walks through a classroom of preschool students at Cooley Early Childhood Development Center in Gilbert.
The 207 lb. Black Hawk wide receiver can dominate on the football field, but in this classroom, it just takes a smile from little Airianna to stop him.

Max and other members of the varsity football team became "buddies" this year to the students in the special education classrooms at the Higley Unified School District preschool.

The ideas started with Williams Field counselor Dr. Jennifer Murphy and Higley preschool director Patti Gleason. The high school students read to the children last year during Read Across America Day. They then planned activities for a science night at the preschool. It was clear friendships were forming.

“We decided to find a way to bring them all together on a regular basis,” Dr. Murphy said.

This year, the high school students load a bus after every early release day and travel 2 miles up the road to spend an afternoon with the young learners.

“The teachers plan a lesson and the students work with them on the curriculum the teacher is doing,” Murphy said.
Activities included making applesauce and apple crafts using tissue paper, all to help the preschool students learn about following steps or to help build fine motor skills.

For Max, it does not matter what the activity is. As the bus full of the football players pulls into the preschool parking lot, they’re just as excited as the smiling, giddy faces staring at them from the classroom windows.

“She’s my new best friend,” Max says as he talks about Airianna. “Airianna’s awesome. Airianna just looks to me, grabs my hand and sits down with the books. She likes the pop out books. She made me touch and pet each animal popping out.”

“They know who their kid is. They talk about the kids even when they’re not there. They learn about patience. They’re learning it’s not all about them,” Murphy said. “The high school students also learn to adapt to the situation. They are so good with the kids. They are fascinating to watch.”

“They adore each other,” she added.

Airianna’s mom, Kateri, praised the early childhood program and the Williams Field students.

“The early intervention program is wonderful in helping our children reach goals and develop self-confidence they need to succeed in school. Knowing that the football team comes and interacts with our little ones - building friendships and mentoring - is heart-warming. I was first told about my daughter's mentor, Max, by Ms. Cheryl Turner during meet the teacher conference at the beginning this school year. With a bright smile, she told me about the effort and time he took to work with my daughter. We had a laugh when I saw the detailed effort my daughter got out of Max for her art project. From that project alone, you could see that he listened and wanted the best for my daughter,” she said.

During a recent football game, Max, Airianna and the other pairs of friends walked on the field together during a recognition ceremony. The young preschool students then stayed to watch their favorite players.

“There’s nothing better than seeing their smiles. The best feeling is when you come in and they look at you. She just smiles, she remembers me,” Max said.