Senior Joe Zarilli has been working hard on his senior project at Great Circle, where he is helping students with special educational needs and learning disabilities.
Great Circle is a school in Webster Groves that offers an education to K-12 students with special learning requirements, emotional or behavioral issues, learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and students recovering from drug abuse. This year, six St. Louis U. High students are working at Great Circle for their senior projects.
“I work as a teacher’s assistant,” Zarilli said, “It all depends on what classroom (I’m) in, so this week I’m with nonverbal kids with autism and you kind of just go throughout the day, helping them through their different activities. You’re kind of just another hand to make it a little easier and get to know the kids.”
Zarilli wanted a Senior Project that would challenge him as well as benefit others, not something he could get by with easily.
“So I knew this was going to be a challenge. This was something that’s not going to be easy, but I definitely think it’s making me better,” he said.
So far, Zarilli has found fulfillment in helping the kids accomplish tasks, even though his communication with them is limited.
“My favorite part of the project is probably getting to know the kids going into it. You don’t really know them, and then you kind of grow these bonds (with them). It’s only my third day working with this certain class and I can already feel the connection between the kids,” said Zarilli.
Zarilli feels that his efforts and the bonds he has grown with the kids have rewarded him with a lasting experience.
“It’s good to get to know them, it’s good to see them succeed,” said Zarilli. “Seeing them accomplish things throughout the day is a really rewarding experience.”
The seniors have also had opportunities to meet all different kinds of people depending on what their project is. Besides interacting with the students, Zarilli has felt a powerful connection and strong sense of admiration for the staff at Great Circle.
“I’ve met a lot of people, " said Zarilli. “The teachers are phenomenal (and) it’s really the kids I was with last week that I bonded with and found out a lot about them.”
Zarilli has been able to learn from the mentors that he has been working with at the school.
“Ms. Erica is one of the teachers in the classroom I’m with and she’s always always talking about something different she’s involved in or something. I’ve gotten to know her pretty well and learned about her and her experience, and it’s been really cool and really fun,” he said.
Zarilli noted that his relationships with his fellow Jr. Bills who are working at Great Circle have grown after only a few days of working together.
“I think that it’s good for us and we kind of get to know each other as we’re working throughout the day and bond through helping these kids which is pretty cool,” said Zarilli.
Zarilli advises future seniors to step out of their comfort zone and find a project that both interests them and challenges them.
“So if you’re hesitant about it, and you’re like ‘oh, do I really want to do all this work?’, you should do all that work and go for that one,” he said.
Working with these students has helped Zarilli to appreciate his own life and community, as well as increase his kindness and compassion.
“It kind of goes back to being grateful for the situation I’m in. I’ve learned how to be patient and care for others in a way I hadn’t in the past,” said Zarilli.
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