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Autism training teaches students to be good friends

Tracy Metz, elementary autism coordinator, teaches the kindergarten classes at Willow River Elementary about autism and how to be good friends to those who have it. The program is thanks to a donation by Jim Peterson, in honor of his wife. Rebecca Mariscal / Rivertown Multimedia

As April marks Autism Awareness Month, students in the Hudson School District are learning about autism and how to treat those who have it.

The education is thanks to a donation by Jim Peterson in honor of his late wife Barb. With "Barb's Bins," Willow River Elementary Autism Coordinator Tracy Metz is working to educate all students in the Hudson School District, starting at the kindergarten level.

"If everyone in the whole district is trained, it will just be a wonderful thing," Metz said.

Training has been done already at Willow River Elementary, since that's where Metz is based. The program will allow other schools to have training now as well, with Metz guiding the other counselors.

"That understanding wasn't quite there at the other schools," she said.

Metz had already had the program planned, but had not been able to implement it until now.

"I'm just so grateful for the gift that we've been given," she said.

Peterson said he wanted to do something in his wife's name. The two of them have two grandsons who are autistic and have worked with Metz, so he felt this program was a good fit.

"I wanted something that would honor her memory," he said.

The program focuses on providing kids with an understanding of what autism is and how it affects different kids who have it. Metz said it's important for kids to have an accurate understanding of it.

"If kids aren't given the information, they'll create it on their own," she said.

Training will take place at the beginning of the year and during the month of April, as it is Autism Awareness Month. The programming uses videos, stories and hand-on activities to help the students learn how to treat students with autism and how to be a good friend to them.

"Autism is not wrong, it's just that it's different," Metz said she teaches the students. "We all have abilities and we all have challenges."

Since the training began, Metz said she's seen an overwhelming response.

"It's been great here," she said.

The work helps ensure that students are not afraid of students with autism, and can treat them with kindness and respect.

"It's always nice to give the students advocates for them," Metz said.

Peterson and his daughter Jennifer were able to sit in on a presentation to kindergarteners by Metz last week.

"I'm grateful that I was able to help you," Peterson told Metz. "To see this money being used this way is very special."

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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