SYCAMORE – Alison Coovert, a senior at Sycamore High School, said she always gravitated toward helping those with special needs, starting with helping one of her elementary school classmates with cerebral palsy.
Eventually, Coovert said, that classmate introduced her to The Penguin Project, a local organization that gives children and adults with disabilities ages 10 to 22 the opportunity to perform in Broadway-style musical productions. Coovert said that’s also where she met one of her best friends, who is a mentor within the group as well.
“And [my friend] said, ‘I just can’t imagine doing anything else,’ ” Coovert said. “And something just clicked with me and I said, ‘Me, neither.’ ”
Coovert, 17, is the winner of this year’s Youth Leader Award through the Kishwaukee Family YMCA and will be honored during the Y Community Awards dinner Thursday night at Faranda’s Banquet center, 302 Grove St. in DeKalb.
Along with The Penguin Project, she also has worked with students with disabilities through the high school’s physical education leader program, the high school’s Peer Pals program that facilitates friendships between students with and without disabilities, a play director at St. Mary’s School, 222 Waterman St., and a teacher’s assistant at North Elementary School, 1680 Brickville Road.
“There’s such a light that I see within [people with special needs],” she said. “I’ve never had a negative experience with them, and even if I did, there was always something to learn.”
Kelley Amptmann, a primary special education teacher at North Elementary School and Coovert’s cooperating teacher, said that Coovert came into her class every school day for two hours to help first-, second- and third-grade students with activities such as reading and completing assignments. Amptmann said Coovert does well with the students and is compassionate as an individual.
“She’s very mature for her age,” Amptmann said. “She’s smart and she’s patient.”
Coovert said she will be attending Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to study elementary education and to be certified as a special education teacher. Kathy Spiewak, principal of North Elementary School, said that Coovert is amazing with the children that she works with and would be an awesome teacher.
“She’s always willing to help and cares about the kids,” Spiewak said.
Coovert said it was kind of crazy to be named the winner of the award and to learn that it was her high school counselor who nominated her.
“I’m just very honored that people think I’m worthy of this,” she said. “It’s just solidifying that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, which is helping others.”