Students learn about disabilities

All month, students at Del Mar Heights School are learning about different disabilities as part of a unique program that was first launched at the school in 2005.

The Understanding Differences curriculum — created by a parent and teachers at the campus — features three groups of lessons. One focuses on the science behind different senses and abilities; one offers students a simulation of what life is like with certain disabilities; and a third features speakers who have them.

Many schools offer the second part, allowing students to get a feel for what it would be like to be blind or deaf, but the program at Del Mar Heights is more expansive than most.

The effort netted the school a Golden Bell Award in 2010 from the California School Boards Association. The program is adapted for students in each grade level.

On Monday, a group of third-grade students learned about living with vision impairment by visiting various stations where they walked blindfolded with a cane, wrote their name in Braille, and tried out gadgets that help those who can’t see.

The experience helped the children understand what people with disabilities deal with, said Claire Lane, one of the third-graders.

“You don’t have to be so worried around the people because you understand it more and know that it’s hard for them,” she said.

Amber Marcus, a sixth-grader who has participated in the program each year, said it has increased her respect for those with disabilities.

“They’re not weak,” she said. “They’re really strong.”

Not only does the curriculum help students understand how other people live, it also shows them appropriate ways to aid those with disabilities, said Kathy Minarik, a science teacher at the school who helps oversee the program.

“A lot of times, people don’t know how to approach someone with a disability, so they just avoid them altogether,” she said. “We want our students to not be afraid of somebody who’s different.”

The program was the idea of parent Jennifer Friedman, a neurologist. She developed the lessons about eight years ago with educators at Del Mar Heights, where her child attended school.

“I wanted children to understand what is going on, neurologically, so it is less frightening,” she said. “A lot of times, I think the simulations can be a lot of fun and games without really understanding what it is.”

Parents have helped keep the program going by volunteering and donating money from the school’s Parent-Teacher Association.

Now the program is an integral part of the school’s culture, Principal Wendy Wardlow said. Teachers have incorporated some of the topics into lessons, and students read books throughout the month that are intended to help them understand disabilities.

“We searched all over the country and couldn’t find a program that we liked — that wasn’t just workbook-driven — so we created our own from scratch,” Wardlow said.

About 10 percent of students at Del Mar Heights School are part of a special-education program, which is typical for elementary schools.

via Students learn about disabilities |

Jimmy Kilpatrick, a national recognized professional special education advocate since 1994.

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