SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) This week's Jefferson Award winner is a San Francisco high student who has a lot to teach when it comes to kids who feel left out at school. In fact, she gives it a special name.
Whether it's music or money lessons, Lauren Marquez seems to have a gift for reaching students with disabilities. At Lincoln High School in San Francisco, the 18-year-old senior is a teacher's assistant in Henry Chan's third period special education class.
"She's always happy," Chan said. "Kids are always excited to see her."
Many students in the class are on the autism spectrum. Mr. Chan says Marquez's gentle, giving spirit helped guide him through his first year teaching the class, teaching him how to be a better teacher and how to be more patient with the kids.
And every Tuesday during lunchtime, the students gather for a club that Lauren started when she was a freshman: it's called Includitude. That's when about two dozen general and special ed students spend time together. From dancing to playing sports, Lauren ensures no one gets left out.
"I can do tennis, or swimming, or anything. And I've done those things," she explained. "But these students have less opportunity in that area, so I want to give them more opportunities."
"They get to BE part of that instead of just looking through the window," Chan added.
Marquez's longtime friend Luke Amodeo calls her mature beyond her years.
"You walk around high school, you don't see kids like that very often," he said. "It makes me strive to be like that."
Once a week, Marquez also helps Mr. Chan's class run the Abe Cafe at school. It's a coffee cart the students use to learn to manage a small business.
In addition, Marquez volunteers for E-Soccer, coaching kids with special needs. It's a lifelong passion.
"Growing up, I learned a lot about Jesus and how He gives a voice to people don't have it or can't advocate for themselves," she said.
Students are simply thankful.
"She's a good friend," one told us.
"Everyone is so encouraging, so really, they're really giving back to me," Marquez said.
So for teaching and including special education students at Lincoln High and beyond, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Lauren Marquez.
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