First stop, Visual Impairment
“Hey guys!” said Dan Strechay, a parent at the Visual Impairment station at Increase Miller Elementary School’s Differences Day, to the students who sat across the table. “You might know my sons.” Strechay motioned towards the hip-looking fellow sitting next to him sporting a neatly trimmed beard and mustache. “And this my twin brother, Joe.”
“What’s up?” said Joe, casually, looking toward the fifth graders. “I am totally blind. I can’t see you at all.”
The students’ expressions went from shocked to wonder as Strechay talked with the fifth graders and demonstrated the tools that help him each day. The South Salem native, now a resident of Pennsylvania, is a former Program Manager for the American Foundation for the Blind’s CareerConnect and currently advises entertainment programs regarding blindness.
inspiring words about differences from Joe Strechay
un-labeling others and developing understanding
hands on learning
Strechay’s visit quickly got to the heart of Differences Day, an annual program that is all about un-labeling others and developing understanding. The program nurtures empathy by allowing students to walk in another person's shoes.
At one station, they played a game that showed them what it is like to have difficulty understanding body language and social cues. Across the gym, they did puzzles while wearing gloves to evoke fine motor skills challenges. They also tried to carry a lunch tray while navigating in a wheelchair.
children are free to ask questions
“I am so thrilled that Joe Strechay was able to attend Differences Day at Increase Elementary School,” said Teryn Kendall, co-chair of Differences Day with Lori McQuade. “It’s a real-world engagement where they feel free to ask questions.”
And ask questions they did. Students listened to Strechay’s cell phone reading email out loud at 500 words per minute. “My computer reads to me at 800 words per minute,” said Strechay. To the students it sounded like gibberish.
“How can you understand this?” one boy asked.
“I trained myself,” answered Strechay. “I started at the normal speed and made it faster each day.”
“Can you go to sleep without shutting off the lights?” asked another student.
“I never know if the lights are on or off,” Strechay answered.
a k-L SEPTO signature program
Differences Day is a work of the heart, created in 2000 by Katonah-Lewisboro's Special Education Parent Teacher Organization (SEPTO)—district parents whose lives have been touched in some way by people with learning, physical, or emotional differences. News of KL's Differences Day spread quickly and it was honored by the Westchester Children's Association in 2001 as "Child Advocate of the Year" and received a Certificate of Merit from the New York State Assembly.
"Differences Day has become a highlight of year, not just for the second and fifth graders who eagerly await their turn to participate, but also for the adults who are able to take part," said Catherine McNulty, Ph.D., Katonah-Lewisboro’s director of special services. "It is a special event that celebrates our inclusive community."