BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer
The annual Sparkle Awards, held March 26 at Clarkston Junior High School, again proved to be an emotional night as teachers, para educators, student peers, custodians, board members, school administrators, bus drivers, and counselors were recognized and received awards at the Special Education Appreciation Evening Ceremony.
Awards were presented to individuals and student groups who support students with IEPs (individualized education plans) in Clarkston Community Schools. Special recognition awards determined by an independent panel of judges outside CCS were also presented.
The early education recipients were Michelle Rice, Kathy McLoskey, Amy Cook, and Kathy Gonyeau; elementary school individual was Kim Stadder; elementary group was Sofia and Emma Ego; middle school was Eduardo Flores; middle school group was the SMS Cafeteria Staff; junior high was Brittney Vidaurri; high school was Brendan Barker; post-high school was Jeff Peariso; and the cross district recipients were bus aides Shelley Weiler and Darlene Welch.
“These people all have a huge impact on our students, and that’s what makes them sparkle,” said Heather Roeser, who coordinates the event each year. “I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see the students nominated, too. I also want to thank the Clarkston High School leadership class for helping me pull this event together.”
For Barker, a CHS senior football player and actor in the recent school play “Hairspray,” befriending Kenzie Zacharias, a sophomore at CHS with Down Syndrome, means more than the average friendship. He first met Kenzie while volunteering with the Special Needs Buddy Basketball Program where he was Kenzie’s Basketball Buddy.
“Each Monday after school, Kenzie was dressed three hours early and couldn’t wait to play basketball with Brendan,” said Joe Zacharias, Kenzie’s father. “After the evening’s sessions were completed, Kenzie was adamant that only Brendan walk her to our vehicle, and he was always glad to comply. Kenzie and Brendan have developed a genuine friendship these past couple of years. Brendan has always made time to give Kenzie a hug and take pictures with her after football practices, games and the ‘Hairspray’ musical. He also has made time to speak with Kenzie when she Facetimes him. When he wasn’t available, he called her back every time.”
Joe added that one of Kenzie’s most cherished moments came after the Hairspray musical.
“Brendan was in one of the lead roles and Kenzie couldn’t wait to congratulate him afterwards,” he said. “As Kenzie made her way to the cafeteria, she spotted Brendan and he noticed her. Brendan dashed out of his conversation circle and gave Kenzie such a heartfelt hug. He also took the time to walk her to the door.
“Brendan has displayed his kindness and true appreciation of his friendship towards Kenzie and other special needs students. He is one of the finest young men around and I know his parents are very proud of him. Our family is fortunate and blessed he has been a part of Kenzie’s and our lives these past few years. Their friendship is genuine, and Brendan means the world to her. Our families are friends and we will continue to maintain contact with Brendan by phone and visits to Central Michigan watching him play football.”
Kenzie also made the CHS varsity cheerleading team this year.
“To have such a positive effect on Kenzie’s life has been nothing but heartwarming to me,” Barker said. “From seeing her as a shy water girl to screaming the Clarkston chants and giving her a hug every chance I get and seeing her smile is worth a million bucks. Kenzie has had a huge impact on my life and really opened my eyes to see her as more than what she thinks she is. Seeing her spirit and her love for everything she does goes a long way to people’s hearts and it’s contagious.”
Being on stage with Kenzie at the Sparkle Awards was a moment Barker will hold in his heart for a lifetime.
“Having Kenzie up there holding her hand is a special moment I won’t ever forget and having her dad give that speech was an amazing experience,” said Barker. “She’s already told me no matter what the weather is that she’s coming to see me play and that put a big smile on my face. I can’t wait to see her and her family in the maroon and gold.”