A league of parents, many whose children had some sort of disability, joined together with the support of the local school board to develop a program called "Sensitivity Day" for our schools. The goal was to recognize diversity, respect differences and educate students on how to best interact with their peers, the community and beyond. Town officials and local professionals were invited as special guests to participate in a two part program; a read aloud program for every classroom and for the 4th graders, interactive learning stations for a more hands-on experience. The program had a successful inaugural run at three of our five elementary schools last year. I looked forward to equal or even greater success at our school this year.
While those of us who know and love such children— children who have AD/HD or autism, who have hearing or vision disabilities, who stutter or who are even just over-weight — can understand them, support and console them, we can not go to school with them. We have little opportunity to explain our sympathetic perspective or to engage with their peers. And that is why I was so grateful for Sensitivity Day. On this day, there'd be plenty of opportunity not only from Moms and Dads but also for local dignitaries such as our Town Selectman; a spokesperson from Guiding Eyes for the Blind and her service dog Elvis; and CEOs and therapists from the hospital's Special Needs Center to name just a few to read or speak directly with the children in a program intended for them at their school.
It is my hope that the students came away with a new understanding or better yet, that maybe, a few children would see their peers begin to engage comfortably with them in ways they hadn't known before. Believe me, although I deeply appreciate how the classroom teachers, special education teachers, speech and occupational therapists, etc. support my special needs child, there is nothing I am more grateful for than when another child, a peer, reaches out to him, when he makes a new friend at school. Ultimately, success depends upon the children.
I am hugely thankful to the many volunteers and organizers who developed, to the town and the schools' PTAs for sponsoring and to the many leaders in our community who participated in this program. You took an important step to make our school community stronger and more inclusive, one where hopefully every child can truly find a welcomed place in their classrooms.
Silver Liner Notes: the above post was adapted from a letter I sent to the Editor of our local paper in hopes that it would be picked up as an OpEd prior to the event. It didn't run. But, I'll take another crack at it in the spring when the last of our five local elementary schools hosts the program. During our event, I took photos and got quotes from some of our visiting dignitaries. I have over 400 images to sort through. By spring, I'll have gained any necessary permissions. I'll have captions written. I'll have an OpEd turned in weeks in advance. And I hope to assist in the development of an absolutely irresistible press release. I want everyone, children and parents to get to understand at least one of these children's perspective better. Because, sometimes it takes a child to teach a village.