Try threading a bead with socks on your hands. Reading words reflected by a mirror. Or playing soccer in bean sacks.
That’s what a group of Livingston High School students attempted as part of experimental exercises to better understand disabilities and the importance of accommodations.
The students are part of a new mentoring program at LHS called “Include Me!” that offers inclusion programs presented by Pathways for Exceptional Children.
Melinda Jennis, a founder of Pathways, helped the students role play a variety of games designed to include children of all abilities and backgrounds ages 3-21.
“When working with someone with disabilities I don’t really care about their diagnosis,” Jennis said. “I care about their senses … I take what they have and grab it.”
That means guiding a visually impaired child to play baseball. Spinning a wheelchair-bound teen on the dance floor. Coaxing an autistic child to play.
“Have you ever been so shy you wish you could hide under your mother or under a rock” Jennis asked. “That’s what it’s like for them, 24 hours a day.”
The training included how to build relationships and make eye contact. “Every step you take with these kids is going to be small,” Jennis said. “Don’t expect to change their lives overnight.”
Pathways for Exceptional Children is a nonprofit organization that develops and implements programs in the areas of mentoring, reading, life skills, team sports and employment readiness for children with various abilities and disabilities. The goal is to provide these children with continuous support within the context of real life social situations.
LHS teachers Patricia Kaes and Paul Raiz were recently awarded a grant to build the inclusion programs with student leadership.
“The goal,” said Kaes, a special education teacher, “is to make the LHS community more inclusive and to encourage students to become leaders of social change.”
Kaes and Raiz co-teach biology, coach sports, and mentor about 50 students in the school’s ACTION! Club to promote the philosophy of inclusion.
Club members have already volunteered at several community events for children with special needs, including sports clinics presented by Livingston Advisory Committee for Disabilities (LACD).
LHS is full of “brilliant kids, compassionate kids,” Kaes observed. The Pathways program gives LHS students opportunities to explore and create programs specific to their passions, while making it a priority to include as many children as possible.
This article was written for the Livingston Public School's Web site @ www.livingston.org