O'Connell basketball player assists peers

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Senior Matt Becht believes being a peer mentor was the most important part of his experience at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington. When Expanded Services, a program for students with developmental and cognitive disabilities, launched his sophomore year, it changed the whole atmosphere of the school. 

“People talk about a culture change … it just seems so much brighter when I see any of those students in the hallway interact with their peers,” said Becht. The program also changed him. “It really taught me a lot about myself and how to treat others,” he said. 

Becht’s interactions with students with special needs began while he attended St. Mark School in Vienna, which has a similar arrangement — the Evangelist Program. At O’Connell, as with other peer mentors, Becht assisted Expanded Services students in their classes, but also hung out with a few of his friends from the program after school. He liked the chance to help make learning more enjoyable for them. 

“Every single time in math when (one student) walks in, he gives me a big smile,” said Becht. But when they start doing classwork, “he mopes around a little bit. So I always ask him how his weekend was, just trying to cheer him up. Once I get him smiling, he works like a machine on that math. He cranks it out.”

“I think that really applies for everyone,” he said. “That's the biggest thing it's taught me, that really it’s the small things that makes people’s days and change their whole outlook.”

In the fall, Becht will head off to play basketball at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. The sport led the shooting guard to attend O’Connell. His cousin, Joe Blaser, taught and coached at the school, so Becht was able to be a ball boy for the team. “I got to be around the team, and I went to O’Connell because I loved that scene and I always wanted to be a part of it,” he said. 

“When I hear a kid tell me I’m their favorite player, it means so much to me because I was literally sitting in their spot, watching players that (I) looked up to as heroes,” he said. “Stepping into the shoes (of the players) that I was looking up to has meant a lot to me in my high school years.”

Read more profiles of graduating seniors in our Graduation issue, available in print May 24. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

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