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Atlantic Coast students come together to mentor kids with special needs

Atlantic Coast High School offers athletics, academics, community service

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Atlantic Coast Stringrays will host the Mandarin Mustangs Thursday night in the Bold City Showdown, Jacksonville's first local high school football game to be televised live in high definition -- airing live on Channel 4 and simulcast on 1010 XL.

But Atlantic Coast High School offers extracurricular activities for students beyond the gridiron.

From athletics and academics to community service, the options of what students can do in addition to their typical class schedule are endless.

In fact, News4Jax learned Atlantic Coast is a trendsetter in Duval County when it comes to working with students with special needs. 

Junior Megan Witucki is part of a club called, Rays of Hope, in which students come together and mentor children with special needs.

The "hope" in Rays of Hope stands for Help Open People's Eyes.

Witucki said between the club and working with the Special Olympics program at her school, she’s learned lessons that will last a lifetime. 

"The athletes persevere through everything. It’s not a matter of if they can’t do something. They still try, and I’ve been that way until last year and that’s a huge part of my life now," Witucki said. "It’s taught me to just keep going and not give up."

One of those Special Olympics athletes is Gabe, who enjoys going outside during school hours and playing football. 

ESE specialty design teacher Pam Enterman explained why the programs are a win-win for everyone involved.

"Special needs kids step it up because they want to impress the gen ed (general education) kids, so behavior improves, they put out more effort," Enterman said. "Then on the reverse side, the gen ed kids, especially those that are thinking about education or physical therapy or anything like that, that are now dealing with the special needs population, it kind of opens up their eyes."

Enterman said Atlantic Coast’s special needs programs are some of the best in the state. 

What makes the programs unique is that students are able to be a part of them during school hours.

Students who have been a part of the programs for years told News4Jax it’s an all-around rewarding experience. 

About the Author:

Florida-born multi-media journalist pays special attention to issues in St. Johns County.