A third annual Cinco de Mayo fiesta of sorts for Morgan Hill and Gilroy students with special needs was hosted by teachers from both programs May 4 at Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy.
The celebratory event was a bit of a send-off for teacher Justin Barbettini, who is in his second and final year heading up the post-secondary program for adult students with special needs for Morgan Hill Unified School District. He was joined by teacher Mike Luke, who runs the moderate to severe disability program at Gilroy High School.
“They have a great group of kids down there in Gilroy,” said Barbettini, who started his special education career as a paraprofessional/aide in Luke’s classroom. “At that time, I knew I wanted to be a teacher but the kids in that class are the reason I got into special education.”
This year, 20 students (nine from Morgan Hill and 11 from Gilroy) gathered for a fun-filled day with some Cinco de Mayo flair, including Mexican trinkets Barbettini bought from La Placita gift shop in Gilroy, BBQ-d carne asada tacos and other holiday fixins. Activities included music, piñatas and a water balloon fight.
“It’s the kids that I really have memories with and connections with,” said Barbettini, who is moving to Maine and plans to continue his work in post-secondary special education. “My class has been great. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve made a lot of things happen.”
Barbettini works with his students, who range in ages from 18-22 and are transferred in from Live Oak and Sobrato high schools, to build confidence, feed independence and further life skills. A major objective is to build a relationship with local businesses and organizations through the student’s on-site volunteerism with the hope of acquiring a part-time job. He has worked out partnerships with Rosy’s at the Beach, We Dog Care, GVA Cafe, Goodwill and the City of Morgan Hill.
The students get compensated for their hours (up to 10 per month) through the Workability 1 program, which is funded by the State Department of Rehabilitation. They receive a salary of $10.50 per hour for their work. The post-secondary program does not get any additional funding from the school district and uses their paychecks to fund other class activities and excursions.
“It’s all about just focusing on the kids and helping them out,” Barbettini said.