By INDIANA NASH
NISKAYUNA — Morgan Kelleher is a sophomore at Niskayuna High School and has always had a passion for two things in life: teaching and working with learning-disabled and special-needs students.
This year, she was able to pursue both of these in a new way.
“I signed up for adaptive PE this year and I love it,” said Kelleher. As her physical education requirement for this year, Kelleher has chosen to work with students with disabilities to help them feel like they’re being challenged and helped enough.
“They just brighten my whole day. After I leave, I can’t stop smiling,” said Kelleher.
The inspiration for this passion came at a young age. “Well, my mom is a teacher. So I remember even as a kid, trying to conduct a pretend classroom,” said Kelleher.
She also had a few friends with special needs she grew up with.
“I also do the Best Buddies program here where you can sign up to be friends with another student who may have a learning disability,” said Kelleher. She sees her “buddy” almost every day and she plans to continue hanging out over the summer.
“You can’t just judge someone by their disability. You have to get to know them. Their needs might be different,” said Kelleher.
This is something she sees each day she works with the adaptive PE class or with the Unified Basketball team, formed in late March of this year.
“I love watching the kids grow. It’s so heart-warming,” said Kelleher. Unified basketball joins together the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics New York to bring students with special needs and the general student body for a chance to compete. This is Niskayuna’s first year in the competition, but they’re not doing too badly for their rookie year.
“We won against Shen last night!” Kelleher happily says. She recalls watching one student land a perfect shot and the Niskayuna crowd just going quiet for a moment.
“He just froze for a second and then he turns towards the crowd with the biggest smile on his face and everyone just starts cheering and screaming, some people were even crying. It was just great,” said Kelleher.
Besides being on the unified basketball team, she’s also on the soccer team and on the school’s basketball team.
“I love that feeling of being on a team. Even when you don’t want to go to practice some days, you get out there on the field and you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself,” said Kelleher.
That sense of team, was mostly inspired by her mother, Katie Kelleher. “We go on a lot of walks and I’m always talking about my adaptive PE class. My mom made me realize how much I love it,” she said.
She plans to attend SUNY Cortland to be a physical education teacher certified in helping with special-needs students.
Even though that’s far off, she’s looking forward to it and is planning on volunteering with all of the special needs-centered programs she can.
When asked what her favorite book is, Kelleher immediately responds, “‘Out of My Mind.’ It’s about this girl with cerebral palsy and she can’t communicate to the outside world even though her brain is fully functioning and she’s really smart. I can’t imagine what that must be like.”
Her perfect day would be to be working with the students in the adaptive PE class and spending time with her mom and two sisters, Maddie and McKenna.
By INDIANA NASH
Each week, Your Niskayuna celebrates an outstanding student by publishing a profile of his or her accomplishments. Students can be between kindergarten and twelfth grade, either enrolled in Niskayuna schools or living in Niskayuna (it’s okay if the student you…Keep reading