Give Fair Chance a chance

Daniel Shen and Anouki Panthagani

Members of Fair Chance, a new student club at Dougherty Valley this year, intend to create a meaningful connection with special education students by integrating them into their daily after-school lives.
Every day after the sixth period bell rings, rather than heading home, several of its volunteers opt instead to visit the special education classroom. For the next couple hours or so, they do the one thing that all high school students love to do in its many forms: socialize.
Vice President Asim Mohiuddin provided a few examples of their day-to-day activities: “We interact with them, anything from playing board games to physical activities outside.”
The concept initially started at San Ramon Valley High School and spread to Dougherty Valley through the teacher community. At first, it was a program directed by special education teachers and headed by Ms. Diane Mazaroff, with students dropping by occasionally. It only turned into a club when current president Shaheer Sandhu took on a leadership role and arranged for Fair Chance to be run by the volunteers themselves.
One of his sources of inspiration came when he considered school life from the eyes of students with disabilities.
“I always wondered why there isn’t anything for them to do outside of school,” he remarked. “It’s our responsibility to help.”
In their mission statement, the club claims a more intricate purpose than simply to treat each special needs student as a fellow high school teenager. Sandhu elaborated that the organization “helps them develop the social skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives,” and that before the establishment of the Dougherty Valley branch, those students “didn’t have anything that did that.”
Fair Chance doesn’t only benefit the recipients of its objective, however, as Mohiuddin calls it an “eye-opening encounter” for its members. When asked about what personally motivates him to put so much time and effort into the club despite minimal personal gain, he contradicted the second clause: “I don’t feel like what I put in is for nothing. I think that being a part of Fair Chance is a truly rewarding experience. Seeing the [students] have fun is more fulfilling than just having volunteer hours.”
Members of Fair Chance take pride in being different from the dozens of other volunteering organizations at Dougherty Valley. One of the members of the club, sophomore Sohum Medishetty, explained how Fair Chance has changed his perspective on volunteering clubs: “What makes this club special is how you’re given the opportunity to help special needs children build confidence that can only be forged with people their own age. It’s gratifying to watch the children grow and learn, which is something I haven’t experienced with other clubs.”
“The students at Fair Chance are different because in other volunteer clubs, participants try to get in and out as fast as they can just to get their hours,” Mohiuddin said. “We are a club that requires more than just time, but it’s a longer-lasting experience than a lot of the other service I’ve personally performed.”
Mohiuddin considers it safe to say that each and every teacher and participant has had a positive experience in their time with the club.
“The special ed students themselves love the program. Sometimes their parents will come in because they want to meet the volunteers and thank them for their time. On both sides, I think that’s what makes it worth it,” Mohiuddin said.
Fair Chance’s long-term goal is to attract and help more special needs students. They are currently working to generate more student interest for their cause as well as to increase weekly member participation.