A high school duo is basking in the glow of their peers’ approval
this week, and are awaiting final voting to see if they are Westlake High School’s next
homecoming king and queen.
And while they have a likely shot at those coveted crowns, they share a trait most high school students would struggle with: Both have Down syndrome.
Jacob Cox and Holly Thomas, two of the six members of this year’s homecoming court, will learn at the Sept. 20 Westlake Football game if they are this year’s king and queen.
The 21-year-olds, who will age out of Westlake’s School System this year, both ended up on the homecoming court after their Westlake High classmates cast votes for them.
Westlake students each received a list of every senior boy and girl in the school and when the votes were tallied, both Jacob and Holly both made the court of six seniors.
Final voting is Thursday. The homecoming rally is Friday afternoon.
Rounding out this year's court is Lauren Hurst, Morgan Jenkins, Kent Axcell and Peter Eyre.
Katie McGlynn, a Westlake Intervention Specialist who works with the pair, said students were given the names of every person in the school and asked to select three boys and three girls for the homecoming court.
Both Jacob and Holly, who are good friends, ended up on the court.
McGlynn said the nominations aren't a total surprise.
"Chad was previously nominated," she said of Class of 2012's Chad DiLillo.
DiLillo, a special education student who has since graduated, was previously nominated as homecoming king. Dubbed “Westlake’s Biggest Fan,” the student body held a State Sendoff last year for Chad, cheering him as he walked the halls of the school and then received his diploma. The outgoing DiLillo was a longtime fixture at Westlake sporting events.
That's the kind of students that comprise the Westlake student body.
Westlake students step up, peers help out in Westlake
At the high school, “typical” students can sign up as peers, helping special education students in class and gym. They receive credits for helping out during study hall periods. No classroom time is given up.
McGlynn said before joining Westlake in 2005, she worked for the Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Retardation and wasn't sure how high school students would treat her students.
“I was worried about our kids being accepted,” she said.
That worry never panned out. Both she and the peers—13 students who give up study halls to assist special education students in school—have seen a level of acceptance in the district often not found in other schools.
“I think Westlake is really good about helping (the kids),” junior Jamie Sandor, a peer, said. Her older brother, Adam, a senior, also helps as a peer.
Sandor is in her third year helping as a peer,
and said the student body is known for rallying around the special education
“I think it’s an awesome experience for them to get the feeling the (typical) students get,” Sandor said.
Sandor said she knows several of the four others nominated and heard that if those students were named homecoming kind or queen, they would hand over their crowns to Jacob and Holly.
Senior Griffin Schiffer is in his second year as a peer and worked exclusively with Jacob. His relationship with Jacob has grown—and flourished.
“When a teacher first asked me, I thought I would give it a try,” he said. “It grows on you. Working with Jacob you get close.”
Now Schiffer spends time outside of school with Jacob, as do many of the other peers and special education students.
“We’ve become really close,” Schiffer said. “When I was first working with him it was different; now he’s like a brother.”