For Jefferson Elementary school, Oct. 14 was more than learning about basic reading, writing and arithmetic. It was about learning empathy and relating to students who are different from themselves.
As part of Disability Awareness day, students rotated to six different stations that demonstrated what it would be like to have to live with some sort of disability, such as, vision or hearing impairment, physical impairment, an intellect disability, autism or communication disability or a learning disability like Dyslexia.
“We always try and celebrate something for Disability Awareness Day in October,” said teacher Denise Boots. “We are hopeful it will ignite a spark at school and maybe get them to have a conversation with their parents about people with disabilities.”
At the vision impaired station, student were asked to place blindfolds over their eyes and then told draw a picture or to sign their name. When the student tried to complete the task, they realized how hard it was to do something so simple as to sign their name.
At another station - physical impairment – students were asked to do a simple task, like tie their shoes or write their name while wearing socks on their hands. Students were able to see what it would be like to have their motor skills impaired.
As the students made their way through the stations, many of them began to relate the things they were learning to people they knew or to students that they may have in one of their classes.
“By the time students got to my station, most of them were able to tell me how one of the stations relates to a student in class or someone they knew,” Amanda Hogan said. “We have students in our building who have special needs. Now, many of our students understand why we do some of the things we do to help them. They are making a relationship they didn’t have before.”
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Although the school has discussed disabilities with the students in the past or had guest speakers come in and talk to the students, the school has never had an interactive, hands-on program.
“We have always tried to calibrate something for disability month in the month of October,” Boots said. “But we have never had anything of this caliber with all the teachers, students and hands-on learning.”
According to Boots, the six station program worked very well for the school’s 400 students who went through the whole thing in one day. In fact, Boots, along with her colleagues, were very pleased with the results.
“When students got to my station, they were already able to relate their experience from the day to someone they knew.” said Lisa Schlegel, speech therapist at the school. “I was really excited about that.”
For Boots and the rest of the faculty, they hope the Disability Awareness Day pays off for their students.'
“Now that they have a better understanding of certain disabilities,” Boots said. “I hope they realize that they may have to stop one day and lend a helping hand.”