By Lauren Provenzano, 4th-grade teacher
Park Dale Lane Elementary, Encinitas, CA
How can students get comfortable with a disability?
After being inspired by attending a “Beyond Awareness” presentation, I decided that it was time to talk about it. As a former student who has CP and a teachers of students every year impacted by various disabilities, I hoped these would increase understanding of disability and create meaningful and authentic interactions.
My first assembly highlighted that disability is diversity and that we all have differences that we navigate and adapt to. Three staff members and a student talked about their disability experiences in and out of school, focusing on ways we navigated or adapted to social and academic situations.
It was really special to see the impact the assembly had, particularly on students with disabilities. We have noticed an increased sense of pride and excitement reported when students saw themselves represented in our speakers. Students have approached teachers who presented, announcing, "I knew we were similar!" or "I have ADHD, too," with big smiles. Students have approached us with questions and made efforts to connect and build relationships outside of class with us. In my own students, I see an increased curiosity around disability and an eagerness to make connections between themselves and what we learn from various people (and see in our classroom learning). Students are more readily identifying with disability and difference and are more open to engaging in discussions about it.
The second assembly brought in a guest speaker and explored ways everyone can be leaders for inclusion. Stephen Hinkle spoke about moments where he felt both included and excluded and discussed language to show respectful curiosity about someone's disability. Stephen answered questions ranging from his favorite place to travel to how he feels autism has affected his social life.
Planning for another event, I have invited more presenters with firsthand experience to visit the school and create station rotations where they will engage in activities and discussions with its students around disability education and advocacy.