Ryan Wicka with Patrick after his family established the scholarship.

Ryan Wicka, a special education teacher at Parkside Middle School, is being honored with a scholarship in his name due to his exceptional work and support of his student Patrick Wilkins-McKee. The Ryan Wicka Scholarship: Education Goes Beyond the Classroom, will provide the funds necessary for a neurodivergent child to attend a Camp Launcher program, summer camps specifically designed to help students with autism reach their full potential through engaging and transformative experiences.

“Going to summer camp, for many people (myself included for many years) is something we just don't think too much about, it is something that we assume everyone has the opportunity to sign up for...” Wicka explains. “Unfortunately, the reality is that many neurodivergent children do not get the same opportunity as their neurotypical peers to indulge in these kinds of ‘routine’ experiences and adventures.”

After Patrick’s incredible experience at Camp Akeela in the summer of 2022, the Wilkins-McKee family partnered with the non-profit organization “Pay Love Forward,” to raise money to send more students with high cognitive autism to Camp Launcher summer camps. Wicka comments on his personal engagement with Patrick, and the positive traits he exhibits, stating that “Patrick is the embodiment of the word good; he has a natural desire to support, befriend, and care for other human beings.”

Wicka’s involvement and dedication inspired Patrick and his family to establish a scholarship in his name for neurodivergent children in economic need. “It is that level of working with Patrick that has helped me be more selfless and keeps me fighting to find new ways of supporting and teaching other students,” shared Wicka.

As the director of special education, athletic director, head football and wrestling coach, as well as a school bus driver at Parkside Middle, Wicka has been an incredible influence on the lives of his students. When asked about the upcoming scholarship recipients, Wicka noted, “My hope for any of the recipients of the scholarship is the same hope I had for Patrick... for these kids to get a genuine and fun experience... while simultaneously getting to have the summer camp experience that so many children get to enjoy every year.”

The Ryan Wicka Scholarship will be awarded to a Camp Akeela camper during the summer of 2023 who indicated financial need according to the eligibility guidelines of Camp Launcher.

For more information, contact Marissa Siegman, director of advancement and administration, at [email protected].