Creating a Culture of Kindness

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By Amy Orr, Special to the Independent

First grader Jack Jameson is among the El Morro students who have taken to heart lessons in empathy. Photo by Jamie Jameson
First grader Jack Jameson is among the El Morro students who have taken to heart lessons in empathy. Photo by Jamie Jameson

Wearing blindfolds and following guides through an obstacle course, El Morro Elementary students got a chance to walk without the use of their eyes. Youngsters also learned how to give simple greetings in American Sign Language. Some felt the effect of a fine motor deficit when they tried to tie their shoes or unwrap a piece of candy while wearing gardening gloves.

Students were also treated to a performance by deaf cheerleaders. Paralympian Jami Goldman-Marseilles and Olympian Janet Evans came to campus to talk about their athletic accomplishments. For the school’s Boo Blast Halloween carnival, a sensory friendly room accommodated children with special needs.

In an effort to celebrate and support all students, El Morro made October “Respect-ABILITY Month”. Administrators organized an array of hands-on events and activities to help students, teachers, and staff look beyond the challenges individuals might confront and create a school culture of respect, inclusion, and acceptance, said Principal Chris Duddy.

The idea came from Alicia Glass, a special education liaison to the El Morro PTA. As the mother of a young autistic child, Glass said she has endured public judgment and ridicule. She envisioned the El Morro events as a way to help people learn “how to best approach and assist those with different abilities.”

Glass said she already feels like the activities have made an impact. During the Boo Blast carnival, she said she “couldn’t believe how many children said ‘hi’ to my daughter, knew her name, and chatted with her. Kids are beginning to realize that she may be a little different, but that doesn’t mean she is less.”

When asked how she felt about being a student at El Morro, Glass’s daughter Tinsley replied, “it feels happy. I like it.”

Seven-year-old Jack Jameson, a first grader, said he sometimes helps a friend who has a hard time hearing directions in class. Jack said he really doesn’t notice that his friend is different and just has fun playing with him at recess.

El Morro school counselor Marianne Lawson said the special activities foster “a school culture where we spread the important message that we value diverse perspectives, gifts, and talents, including those of individuals with disabilities.”

Lawson said she feels like the campus activities have transformed the school community and its culture. She explained that students are learning that obstacles are universal.

“No matter what the challenge may be,” Lawson said, “everyone must learn how to positively cope with the cards they are dealt and make the most of their challenge.”

Irene White, director of special education for the district, said administrators at all four campuses strive to foster inclusive practices. White expressed pride in El Morro’s Respect-ABILITY month and said she hopes to take this idea to other school sites in the future.




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