Students show support, make new “PALS”


Emma Rose Neal

Drake students pose for a picture during a PALS lunch activity

Every month, over one hundred students come together to create bonds that will last throughout high school. In The Partners At Lunch (PALS) club, students with and without disabilities address misconceptions about those with disabilities and demonstrate support for each other by just spending time together.

Seniors Payton Wilson, Ellie Wooster, and Marina McPhail are this year’s PALS leaders. They joined the club as freshmen and have invested several years’ worth of time and commitment in the PALS community. The leaders look forward to what this coming year will hold for PALS. 

It’s like hanging out in a group with a hundred of your best friends, it’s the coolest thing ever

— Marina McPhail

“It’s like hanging out in a group with a hundred of your best friends, it’s the coolest thing ever,” McPhail said.

In a normal monthly club meeting, the leaders announce upcoming events and birthday shoutouts and club members grab a slice of pizza, get into groups, and start talking. Smaller groups of students eat lunch together weekly to ensure that friendships are maintained throughout the year.

The leaders do not suggest speaking points for members, as they hope that friendships will blossom organically. 

“Since it’s centered around making new friends and connections, we try not to structure it that much because we want people to get the chance to know each other more naturally than just telling them what to talk about,” Wilson said.

The PALS community extends outside of Drake, as members spend time together after school and on weekends. During the most recent meeting on November 8th, members discussed an upcoming movie night. Previously, McPhail and her PALS group participated in The Color Run, a 5k race that takes its inspiration from the Holi Festival, a traditional Indian custom. Both the festival and PALS club encourage the spreading of happiness and compassion. 

PALS club advisor of 11 years and Drake Special Education teacher Andrew Leist believes that the club exemplifies how Drake students are accepting of all, and says and that he himself personally benefits from being a part of it. 

“It’s helped me get to know a broader group of students on campus, and also been able to see relationships develop. The students in PALS actually become real friends,” Leist said.

Each member of the PALS club can participate in Unified Sports, which is run by the Special Olympics. Drake Unified basketball and track and field teams combine an equal number of high schoolers with and without disabilities. 

The Special Olympics and Unified Sports provide year-round sports for people with intellectual disabilities to give them opportunities to play sports and develop friendships. Children and adults demonstrate courage and break stereotypes about people with disabilities.

PALS club member Meleah Silverstein said, “[PALS] really is a good example of how nobody eats alone on campus. Everyone at Drake is super welcoming and wants to reach out and make friends with everybody, no matter what the circumstances.”