SAN ANTONIO — It's an afternoon art class at Rudder Middle School in the Alternative Learning Environment classroom, or ALE.
The kids here have a few cognitive differences, but still get busy with paintbrushes, paint and paper. Amid the work, one instructor connects with them better than most.
"So now we're gonna start mixing colors,” says a young girl in an apron and glasses, helping to guide the class.
Hannah Glover is the same size, same age and same class as the students. She's an 11-year-old volunteer aid in special ed, and a fellow 6th grader.
"It's really rewarding to help,” she said. "Even though you don't really get a prize for it. It just feels good to help them.”
She should know how it feels. Hannah has been volunteering with many of these students for more than a year, having started when she was in the 5th grade at Thornton Elementary.
"I liked helping all of them, to be honest, and there was one who was in the same grade as my little sister," she said.
No one in the Glover family has a learning disability, or any disability. Still, Hannah connects with these kids on a personal level.
"She really has a good feel for our kids,” says Tracey Sorrell, the ALE teacher at Rudder who’s been working with Hannah the entire semester. “She's not afraid to step in and work with them and talk to them and be their friend, and that's what a lot of these children need. Like any other middle schooler needs, they need friends."
By now, the ALE students have begun creating their art.
"You wanna do yellow?" asks Hannah, although she has a hard time getting one boy’s attention. “Jacob? Jacob? Jacob?” she asks.
She displays the patience and the perspective these students need most.
"They're just normal kids,” she said. "They want a normal life, despite their disabilities."
Today, they're painting with primary colors. Some paint within the lines. Others like to blend. It can be confusing and, as in any class, some students need guidance.
But Hannah calms and comforts everyone.
“It's very difficult to get everybody involved,” Sorrell said. “But she jumps right in and does whatever she thinks she needs to do. And if we say, 'Try it this way, she does it.'"
Hannah’s even recruited other students to be volunteers, too.
"She's got a couple of friends,” agrees Sorrell, ”who come with her and help the class.”
It's a connection beyond academics; one about care and kindness that no vocabulary needs to define.
It's about friendship.
"They've taught me that you can make friends with almost anybody if you try," Hannah said.