New Lenox teen shares blessings with special-needs students

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Football player Matt Schneider, 17, a senior at Lincoln-Way Central High School, wants to get into the Air Force Academy and eventually build the next spaceship that travels to Mars. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Matthew Schneider is a captain for the Lincoln-Way Central High School football team.

He’s ambitious, with thoughts about one day building spaceships.

He also wrestles and is the senior class vice president. He’s a member of student council, the National Honor Society, Link Crew and Mu Alpha Theta, and he is a peer helper.

Schneider also excels in the classroom, with a 4.554-grade-point average on a 4-point scale, which ranks him No. 27 out of 470 classmates.

He seemingly has it all, excelling in academics, athletics and extracurriculars.

Some might say Schneider is lucky. But if that is so, he believes in passing his luck around, because working with Lincoln-Way Central’s special-needs students is his favorite part of the day.

Schneider, 17, is an adaptive physical education leader, working one on one with students in the class time normally allotted for his gym class.

“The best part is seeing how all the students progress throughout the year. They start out very quiet, but once we connect, they talk regularly,” said Schneider, who earns a grade for his participation with the students.

His older brother, Ben Schneider, 20, inspired him to become involved with the special-needs kids as a sophomore.

“I really thought it would be cool because he talked about it and said how much fun it was,” Schneider said of Ben, who enjoyed the work so much that he is pursuing a degree in special education at the University of Dubuque.

Schneider, who also is preparing for Lincoln-Way Central’s Special Olympics, said he does well with the class because “I have patience and get along with people really well.

“In the beginning, I didn’t know how to go about helping the kids,” he said. “The point of the class is to prepare them for the real world and normal-life situations. I have really improved in that by asking them questions and being able to hold a good conversation with them.

“I’ve helped them mature as I have matured as well.”

He does not plan to make special education his career, however. He hopes to obtain a congressional nomination to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“I’m interested in flying,” he said. “I think that would be really cool being a pilot. I have always thought about serving, and going to the academy would be good for me. I’d be doing my part for the country, earning my keep and fulfilling one of my goals.”

Ideally, he’d like to be working for NASA in 10 years.

“I could be the person who builds the spaceship that gets us to Mars. To land a cool job like that and make history in the process would just be great,” he said.

Helping him achieve his goals are his parents, Susan and James Schneider, of New Lenox.

“They have always played a big part in my life. They’ve kept me on the straight and narrow and made me who I am today,” he said, also crediting other influential adults in his life.

“When I think about making a choice, I ask myself if it will help me succeed in the future. Sometimes the answer is no. It is a bad choice,” he said. “I want to have a good future, so often I’d rather stay home and study vs. go out and do something that is a risk.”