It was the eve of spring break for San Marino students, but that isn’t why Jamie Kreindler was so excited last Friday.
Kreindler, 18, was getting ready to cheer on his friends who were about to perform in the San Gabriel Valley Spring School Games for Special Olympics Southern California, which are held annually at the San Marino High School track and football field. The graduating senior has spent two years as a peer mentor for SMHS’ special education students.
“I needed an elective and peer mentoring was an option,” Kreindler said, explaining how he became involved. “Ever since I was put in the class, I’ve fallen in love with it and with the environment it creates.”
Kreindler spends a class period each day with the moderate/severe special education classroom, working with six students. He often works on teaching and practicing social skills in addition to helping the students learn how to handle meal preparation, laundry and other chores.
As Kreindler spoke just before the Special Olympics games began, it was clear that students in the class had taught him plenty, too.
“It makes me think of life in a whole different way,” the lifelong San Marino resident said. “They teach me that everyone is the same. They’re able to relate to us. They may not be able to show it in ways we understand, but they understand a lot.”
Kreindler said he had thoughts of studying psychology or sports management in college, but his two years of peer mentoring have sharpened his focus in another direction: Special education.
“This class definitely changed me and persuaded me to go in this direction,” he said.
As for school, Kreindler said he hasn’t made a decision yet but wants to stay local. After he graduates, he plans to volunteer in some capacity with the summer special education program at SMHS, likely as an aide.
“I eventually want to get into teaching, but being an aide will be an awesome experience for getting there,” he said.
Rosanna Villalobos, the special education teacher for the class Kreindler mentors, said it is students like him who helped her acclimate to her first year at SMHS. As a teacher, Villalobos said she has a special perspective when watching her students interact with their peer mentors.
“For me to see it in action, to be on the outside and see it happen, I don’t think our peer mentors understand the impact they have on our kids’ lives on a daily basis,” she said.
Students like Kreindler also helped Villalobos acclimate to hosting the Special Olympics games. She said she was surprised and impressed when Kreindler revealed his higher education goals to the class.
“You don’t get a lot of high school seniors who know what they want to do,” she said. “To have a program like the peer mentor program that can have that effect on you, I think that’s awesome.”
In the meantime, Kreindler was ready to see the games and watch his friends compete. Including SMHS and Huntington Middle School, there were students from 11 San Gabriel Valley schools competing in the games.
“It’s awesome to see them make new friends,” he said. “It’s everything we’ve been going over for the last year. Starting a conversation. Making new friends. Treating others how you want to be treated.”