Allegan County News & Union Enterprise

Otsego High School recognizes RISE students

RISE student Maddy Watson receives her crown during Snowcoming.

By Jason Wesseldyk
Sports Editor

Otsego High School used is annual Snowcoming event to recognize some special members of the student body.
Between the girls and boys basketball games against Vicksburg on Friday, Jan. 28, six students from the OHS RISE (Reaching Independence through Support and Education) program were crowned as Snowcoming royalty.
Those six students were Trey Nichols (senior), Gibson Brown (junior), Maddy Watson (junior) Tyler Billman (sophomore), Nate Bentley (sophomore) and Trenton Travis (freshman). They were accompanied by their Links, who are general-education students who are paired up with RISE students to help them throughout the school day and at school outings/events.
OHS Level 2 teacher Erin Horton works with the RISE students.
“The RISE students who have chosen to participate fully enjoy being involved,” she said. “They enjoy the recognition and the chance to be in the spotlight. 
“Snowcoming Week has become their favorite week between the Testosterone Volleyball game raising money for the Links program, being interviewed on the O-Town News, being crowned during the Snowcoming game and then attending the Snowcoming dance.”
And it’s not just the RISE students who enjoyed the week. Rather, their Links had an equally good time with the events.
“The Links seem to enjoy showing off the unique bond they develop with the RISE students,” Horton said. “It’s an opportunity for the Links to show that these students are a vital part of the community who deserve not only recognition but for the rest of the student body to get to know them. 
“The relationship between the Link and RISE student is a genuine and caring friendship. Years later Links stay in contact with RISE students through text and email.”
OHS graduate and former Link Emily Eichler is an example of that continued bond.
“Emily drove back on five-hours notice to help with the crowning because it meant that much to her to be a former Link and see students she had built a bond with in the past,” Horton said.
Horton attended the Snowcoming games with her husband, who commented on how unique it was to honor the RISE students in this way.
“It shows me that OHS is not just willing, but also determined to normalize different types of learners and create a family-like atmosphere,” Horton said. “An environment where students feel welcomed, safe and able to be themselves no matter their differences. 
“It also shows that OHS values social and emotional health, not just academics. OHS has been very willing for our program to try a variety of things for the benefit of our students.”
Those activities include working the concession stands at varsity football games and taking monthly community outings.
The OHS Student Council originally came up with the idea to honor RISE students at Snowcoming three years ago.
“The Student Council wanted a chance to recognize (the RISE students) as well as introduce them to those in the student body who may not know these exceptional students,” Horton said. “Unfortunately, due to COVID, the past two years we were not able to continue the new initiative. But it’s my understanding that the Student Council plans on making this a regular event moving forward.”

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