Get to Know C.E.C. Club


Photo by Stephanie Swanson

By Mara Shapiro

At the annual spring pep assemblies, we are introduced to the baseball/softball, boys’ tennis, girls’ soccer,  and boys’ gymnastics teams and treated to performances from Orchesis and various dance clubs, as well as a videos from the water polo team and the track teams. But there is also another highly anticipated event: the Pathways students’ basketball game. While the Pathways students certainly are the stars of the show, none of it would be possible without the effort and dedication of the C.E.C. (Council for Exceptional Children) Club.

   The Meeting

About twenty students take part in the club, which meets every other Tuesday in Room 2025, a room filled with motivational posters and algebra rules. During the meeting of Tuesday, Nov. 28, much needs to be discussed. On the board behind junior president Maddie Fegert, three key points are written down: 1. Bake Sale 2. T-Shirts 3. Molloy Night. Molloy Night is held every few months at the Julia S. Molloy Education Center in Morton Grove. The C.E.C. Club hangs out with the Pathways students, playing basketball and watching movies. Along with Fegert at the front of the room are junior PR head Joe Retondo, sophomore treasurer Jesse Sacks, junior vice president Armeen Sayani and junior secretary Jhana Jenkins.

The focus of this meeting’s discussion is the club T-shirt color. First-year sponsors math teacher Kathleen Brandes and psychology intern Leah DeGoglia have opened a website to simulate the T-shirt’s design and colors. Special Education teacher Mary Jo Schnabel is also a sponsor, but is not present at the meeting.

The Sponsors

DeGoglia and Brandes enjoy sponsoring a club that allows the Pathways kids to spend time with peers.

“I get to work with the Pathways students, and I love spending time with them. I know how much it means to them. The parties and the basketball team allow them to spend time with peers,” DeGoglia said.

“I am a sponsor of the C.E.C. Club because I wanted to spend more time with the students in the Pathways Program and because I wanted to help facilitate interactions between those students and their Niles West peers,” Brandes said.

After the C.E.C. logo is added onto a plain virtual T-shirt, the color wars begin. Colors such as grey, orange, sky blue, green and black are thrown out as potential candidates. A discussion of long vs. short sleeves follows. Even the idea of everyone puffy painting their own shirt is suggested. After about 10 minutes, a consensus has been reached: blue short sleeved shirts. The color won by 8 votes. Next, ideas like Secret Santa and taking the Pathways students to a varsity girls’ basketball game to prepare for their own game are discussed. Niles West C.E.C. partners with Niles North’s C.E.C. in a basketball tournament. Once the upcoming events and the T-shirt color are decided, the meeting is adjourned until Tuesday, Dec. 11, the next meeting date.

While most students join clubs their freshman year completely unaware of how the club works and if they will like it, most of the C.E.C. club members have personal connections to the club, whether their older siblings were dedicated members or they have a connection to a person with special needs.


Retondo has been in the club since freshman year. His older sister is part of the reason why he decided to join.

“I joined because my sister was in it, and I heard a lot of stories from her. My older cousin is a special education teacher, so I happily fell into [helping] special needs. [The Pathways Students] all have the different needs teenagers have. I love them because they’re so like us. People underestimate them. They talk about things like “Twilight.” I can relate to them on a daily basis,” Retondo said.

Sophomore Michael Byrne also has sisters who were in the club, but also had a brother in the Pathways Program.

“My brother used to be in the [Pathways Program]. Special education has been a part of my whole life. I love those kinds of kids. It’s good to see them,” Byrne said.

Fegert, who has been a part of the club since her freshman year, also has family connections.

“I have a sister and cousin with special needs. It’s a possible career option for me. I really enjoy it,” Fegert said.

The club would love to have new members to help them plan events and to become acquainted with the Pathways Students on a more personal level.

“It’s a great way to get to know the Pathways Students. You will make connections, and it’s a great way to make a difference in someone else’s life,” DeGoglia said.

“Students should join the C.E.C. club because it is an excellent opportunity to get to know and have fun with some amazing students who they may not have met otherwise,” Brandes said.

“Other students should join because it’s a great way to know that the Pathways students need other peers’ affection. [By joining], the [Pathways] students will get the love and affection they need. [Niles West] students go into the Pathways classroom during the day,” Retondo said.

“[The Pathways kids] are really good kids. It’s [gives me] pride and it’s an honor to be in this club. It’s a lot of fun,” Byrne said.

Though Fegert says that the hardest part about being the president is “keeping the club organized and keeping everyone on track,” she says the club “makes you feel good, and it’s fun.”

Fegert, Retondo and Byrne all said the parties are the most exciting facet of the club.

“The parties are the best part. It’s great to see their faces light up. We did a mummy wrap for Halloween. We get to eat and hang out with them while meeting new people,” Retondo said.

“The club is really beneficial. You come out of your own group. It allows you to help locally. You don’t have to change the world. There are people right here. You can make people belong and spend time with the Pathways students,” junior Sharon Mathew said.

The C.E.C. basketball tournament is Saturday, Feb. 16 at Maine West.