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Why does my friend get to leave class to play games with a therapist? Should I push someone’s wheelchair or let them go more slowly on their own? What do I do when I can’t understand my classmate’s speech?
These are very real questions children may have about situations they encounter in school and elsewhere.
“Because of inclusion, kids know kids who are different,” said Michelle Christie, former president of Katonah-Lewisboro’s Special Education PTO (SEPTO) and chair of this year’s Differences Day, an annual workshop for students in second and fifth grades. “Differences Day helps students understand physical and sensory processing issues and creates opportunities for support, empathy, and relationships.”
Differences Day ran from November 28 to 30 this year. Each second and fifth grade student spent a session in their school gymnasium, rotating through a series of hands-on activities designed to simulate visual, auditory, speech and motor impairments, as well as learning differences. At one station, they tried on goggles that simulate visual impairment; at another they did puzzles while wearing gloves that evoke fine motor skills challenges. They also tried to carry a lunch tray while navigating in a wheelchair.
Students from John Jay High School’s A World of Difference (AWOD) club help at one school each year—this year at Increase Miller Elementary School.
“Differences Day left a lasting impact on me,” said Lauren Diack, president of AWOD. “I still remember it. It opened my eyes to what some people go through and how to respond and support them.”
Station activities are facilitated by parent volunteers.
It is in the student-parent conversations that a deeper knowledge of various challenges and an understanding of how to make someone feel more comfortable is attained.
Differences Day is unique to the Katonah-Lewisboro School District. It was created in 2000 by a team of SEPTO parents with input from Katonah-Lewisboro special services staff.
The workshop has been run by SEPTO each year, with additional sponsorship from the elementary school PTO/As and the Office of Special Services.
"As students participate, parents are made more aware and conversations about differences happen at home," said Lori McQuade and Teryn Kendall, co-presidents of SEPTO.