Ligonier Valley students share Valentine’s Day party with schoolmates |
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Jeff Himler
Ligonier Valley High School personal care assistant Sharli Neiderhiser (left) looks on as Krystin Kemler, 18, of Seward admires a plush toy monkey she received as a gift Feb. 12, 2019, during a Valentine’s Day party organized by the school’s student council as a joint activity with the life skills class.

Valentine’s Day came early Tuesday at Ligonier Valley High School, where life skills students and their guests from the school’s student council enjoyed a 40-minute party packed with fun, fellowship and treats both savory and sweet.

Life skills class member Dakota Ansell, 19, of Seward mingled with many friends from the student governing body. He shared pizza with pal Andrew Kuzemchak, 17, of Ligonier Township accompanied Gunnar Elliott, 17, of Ligonier as the students exchanged valentine cards, and teamed with Lucas Rashilla, 18, of Ligonier Township to play an interactive quiz game — Kahoot!

“Just hanging out and eating is always a lot of fun,” Kuzemchak said, “and the food is good.”

“Yeah, it’s good,” Ansell agreed, smiling as he bumped fists with Kuzemchak and then cupped the fingers of his hands to form a heart shape, while enjoying a slice of pizza.

The student council earned the pizza party as a reward from Shop ’n Save after its members volunteered to help pack 2,100 grocery bags of holiday food for families in need as part of the 2018 annual Operation Santa Claus campaign, a cooperative effort by the area supermarket chain, the Salvation Army and Trib Total Media.

Operation Santa Claus wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of volunteers like the Ligonier Valley students. “The students are such a huge help,” said Lindsay Berdell, director of promotions and marketing for Trib Total Media. “They are always so positive and enthusiastic and jump in and do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Deciding to share the pizza with the life skills students was a natural choice for student council member Logan Pritts, 18, of Ligonier Township, who suggested the party. For a few years now, the two groups have been coming together to share holiday celebrations — dressing up for Halloween and conducting “secret Santa” gift exchanges.

“There’s a very warm connection we have with them now,” Pritts said of the life skills students. “I like to open myself and try to get to know all of them as equals. We’re all the same.”

The joint parties “make them happy, and it makes us feel good, too,” he said.

“It’s really touching that they thought to go help somebody else” with their pizza prize, adviser and math instructor Marsha Ackerman said of the 30 student council members. “They really go above and beyond to help each other.”

The student council brought Valentine’s Day gifts for the life skills class, which, in turn, prepared brownies to share.

Krystin Kemler, 18, of Seward, who communicates with the help of a “talking box,” or augmented communication device, signaled that she particularly liked a plush toy monkey she received as a gift.

“I hope we can spread joy, give each other gifts and just enjoy each other’s company,” student council member Rachel Caldwell, 18, of Ligonier said as the party began.

Jeff Himler is a
Tribune-Review staff writer.

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