By Kerstin Lundgren
Oak Ridge Seminary for special needs students has a new focus, and BYU students are helping.
BYU students volunteer as “friends” to the special needs students but Oak Ridge also needs more student volunteers because of its new focus.
Fred Oliver, Principal of Oak Ridge Seminary, said this year Oak Ridge wants three university students for every special needs student rather than one.
This three-to-one ratio will make seminary an environment of friends rather than a class just for the developmentally disabled.
“We want to nurture everyone. We don’t want to just focus on the special needs students,” Oliver said.
Oliver said that when one friend has been assigned to one special needs student it has been more of a parent-child relationship.
“We want these students to see themselves as adults because they are. This is a chance for university students to make friendships within the class,” Oliver said.
Student friends or volunteers attend seminary classes with the special needs students. These friends help students read scriptures and understand basic church principles.
Students also volunteer as seminary and institute teachers.
Julie Hansen, 20, a junior from Arizona who has not declared a major, teaches special needs seminary at a local middle school.
Hansen said, “It’s been a life-changing experience. I have to constantly work to have the Spirit.”
BYU’s religion class teaching developmentally disabled trains students to teach seminary at Oak Ridge and other middle and high schools. Most of the teachers come from this class, Oliver said.
The curriculum’s focuses on teaching with the spirit and to teach simple gospel principles. Oliver said the spirit is the way that these needy students learn.
Jennifer Smith, 19, a sophomore from Salt Lake City majoring in marriage family and human development, is a seminary friend.
She said, “Sometimes it is frustrating because you think they don’t understand, but they are much more mature spiritually than we are.”
Oak Ridge is looking for seminary friends to volunteer. This year there have not been many volunteers, Oliver said. Volunteers can earn credit hours in the School of Family Life and hours in the BYU religion department.
Friends can sign up at Oak Ridge Seminary at 1175 Birch Lane east of the J. Reuben Clark Building.