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The course Education 300, Survey of Intellectual Disabilities, hosted the holiday Zoom party on Dec. 10. 

The 12 Days of E-Hall allows JMU students to submerge themselves in a festive atmosphere before heading home for the holidays. But for the adults living at Pleasant View, a Christian-based adult home for people with intellectual disabilities, they’re more isolated than ever before.

Many of these individuals are isolated in their living areas because of COVID-19 and don’t have access to the same technology that others do to stay social online. To bring some holiday cheer and social interaction to these residents, the students and teacher of Exceptional Education 330, Survey of Intellectual Disabilities, a class at JMU, threw a virtual holiday Zoom party Dec. 10. 

During the holiday party, members of groups were put into breakout rooms to enjoy festive activities at different “stations” throughout the night. The stations consisted of holiday trivia, a Christmas tree craft, a wheel of questions and a sing-along. The night was finished off by the group watching “Frosty the Snowman” and saying goodbyes. 

Following the Zoom party, Kendal Swartzentruber, a part-time instructor and the teacher of the class, said that several of his students stayed on the call to debrief. 

“Despite what we planned, we still had to adapt,” Swartzentruber said. “To see the students of this class be able to adapt on the fly, to go with the flow for two hours and still come out on the other side extremely happy was, for me, a consolation prize for knowing that we achieved something this semester.” 

Meghan Lankford, a sophomore communications sciences and disorders major, and Marina Bien, a junior health science major, are students in the class who participated in the virtual Zoom party at the “wheel of questions” station. 

Lankford said that the idea to collaborate with Pleasant View came from her professor, Swartzentruber. Over his time of teaching the course, he’s been in contact with Pleasant View as the executive director would come in as a guest speaker to share their role in the community with the class. 

However, it wasn’t until this year, that Swartzentruber became a member of the executive board for Pleasant View. He also said Lankford could participate in an event with the Pleasant View community as her Honors College project rather than writing a paper because she said that’s more meaningful to her. 

Lankford and Bien have participated in other events with Pleasant View, such as pen pal writing and handing out candy at a Halloween event. They both agreed that these events made a strong impact on the adults at Pleasant View, as their eyes lit up and they seemed excited to converse with the students. 

“I’m really thankful that this class was able to give me such a unique opportunity to work with Pleasant View, and it’s definitely something I’d volunteer with in the future,” Lankford said. “I’ve been looking for ways to help the Harrisonburg community, and this is a really good way [to do that].” 

Speaking on the class itself, Bien said the class is focused on learning how to interact with individuals with intellectual disabilities rather than facts and statistics. She also said that the best thing about the class is that there’s an individual in the class with an intellectual disability who teaches others based on firsthand experience. 

“He’s a really big influence in how we learn how to interact with individuals with intellectual disabilities,” Bien said. 

Bien also said that her professor did a great job at teaching compassion in the class through reading stories and listening to podcasts about how to have compassion for those with intellectual disabilities. 

Bien said that what she learned in this class was very important for her future career.

“Meghan and I are both going into the health profession, [and it is helpful] to know how to be able to interact with those types of individuals and their families in the future,” Bien said. 

Swartzentruber said that in his class, he aims to provide a strong theory and research baseline on what defines intellectual disability as well as offer students firsthand stories of experience and interaction with those who claim intellectual disability as part of their lives. 

“If there was one thing I want [students] to take away, it would be that every human being should be afforded dignity,” Swartzentruber said. “Part of our job as professionals in service oriented fields is to recognize, reinforce and support the capabilities in all human beings.”

Contact Maggie Rickerby at rickermk@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.