“If there’s ever a day when I’m in a bad mood, or anybody is, Klayton comes in and is like, ‘Hey guys,’ and he hugs us,” says Megan Stiles, a senior student in that cooking class. “He brings a positive vibe and an atmosphere to our kitchen. It’s always great to see his smiling face.”
During his fifth-period work-skills class, for the first time all day, the words, “I’m tired,” escape his mouth, in between answers to questions designed to prepare students with special needs for real-life conversations. Moments later, however, he’s back to speed and ready for his next adventure: school lunch.
Lunchtime offers students a chance to unwind, but Klayton doesn’t take it. If anything, it’s an even busier half hour for him. When asked who he sits with, Klayton replies, “Everybody.”
He’s not kidding. Klayton quickly bounces from table to table, approaching and holding on to so many peers that it’s a challenge to count how many smiles he sparks.
“In here, he’s like a little hummingbird,” gym teacher Tony Ahrens says with a grin as he supervises the lunchroom.
After his lunch period ends, Klayton migrates to the cafeteria dishwashing station, where he blasts trays and bowls with pressurized water before sending them off to be sanitized and dried. He completes that work in a paid position he holds at the school.
Rick Stenftenagel is one of four teachers in the special education department, and oversees Klayton and the other students with special needs who clean the dishes. Stenftenagel explains that, while Klayton still has times when he is down, he has come a long way in his nearly two years at JHS. He’s developed a work ethic, and now knows how to stay cool under pressure.
Other teachers say his social boundaries have also improved. The special education department’s goal is to prepare students to hold a job after they graduate — an accomplishment Stenftenagel and Nancy Knies, a speech-language pathologist who works at JHS and Jasper Middle School, believes Klayton is primed to reach.
“I think he’ll be successful later in life,” Knies says.
Klayton wraps up his time at school with applied English and mathematics classes that focus on reading skills and concepts like time and money.
Dismissal then comes and goes, but Klayton’s day is still far from over. He is a member of the school’s Unified Track team, which is an outfit that brings together students with special needs and those without them through a partnership between the Special Olympics and Indiana High School Athletic Association. By mid-afternoon, Klayton is warming up with the rest of the 63-member group.
Participants don’t know what events they’ll participate in this year, but last year, Klayton ran the 400-meter dash and competed in the long jump event. Monday, he circles the Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium track with his Unified Track partner, Tyson Brandt. Like many students and teachers interviewed, Brandt figures there’s a good chance Klayton has interacted with everyone in the school at least once.