Immaculate Conception Students Celebrate Differences

Friday, October 16, 2009
Seventh grade student Tyler Allen begins his blind-folded journey around the gym as P.E. teacher Ellen Koeper prepares to blindfold Garrett Vangennip and other seventh grade students.

This year, as Jackson Public Schools celebrated DisAbility Awareness Week (October 12-16), Immaculate Conception School and St. Paul also joined. Attending a Christian school always includes learning how treat others with kindness, but this week the teachers and students took that to a new level. The students learned not only what it means to have a disability, but in some classes they learned what it might feel like to have a disability. One activity some students participated in during P.E. class was to do their laps blindfolded (pictured above). They didn't run as they usually do; they walked and felt their way around the perimeter of the gym. Even though they know the gym very well, I still heard shouts of, "Whoa, what is that?" as they approached an object. It wasn't as easy as they thought. Some other P.E. classes had to use teamwork to move a ball by putting it between their backs or stomachs, but could not use their arms.

Some eighth grade students said they viewed a website ( in class that demonstrated what it might be like to have ADHD or dyslexia. They didn't realize how hard it would be for someone with those disabilities to concentrate and read. As the language arts teacher, I assigned my students a writing prompt asking them to tell which disability they think they could best cope with if they were to have one. The responses were interesting. In one class, many students said they would choose not being able to walk. They wanted to be able to still have the senses of sight and hearing, and they knew there were still sports that could be played while in a wheelchair. In another class, many people said they would choose being deaf because they could communicate through sign language and still be able to get around. Of course, no one would actually want to have any disability, but they all realized that they could make adjustments to cope with it if they did.

The Jackson Drama Club came to Immaculate Conception to present a play to the fourth and fifth graders from Immaculate Conception and St. Paul. When asked if she enjoyed it, Katie Hanners, a fifth grader, said, "Yeah, it was fun!" She said the play taught them "you shouldn't make fun of people and call them names or sort them into groups." Katie says that this week made her more aware of people with disabilities. While outside of school, she noticed a man who was missing an arm. She said he appeared to easily be doing his job. If she had not had to go without using her arms to pass the ball in P.E. class this week, she might not have thought about the fact that it might be hard for people with disabilities to perform their job.

While we are all aware that disabilities exist, we may not realize that we might walk right past someone without knowing that they couldn't hear us coming up behind them or maybe they can't read the sign on the street corner. This week, these students were reminded of that. Hopefully, they will carry this lesson with them and remember that people with disabilities can adapt and fit in. They're like everyone else; they just have to learn to do some things in different ways. So, why not celebrate those differences?

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