Sickles School 4Volunteer Risa Bertodatti assists third grade students with a hands-on activity during Understanding Differences Day at Sickles School.

Press release from Fair Haven School District

Each year, an innovative day-long program at Viola L. Sickles School in Fair Haven helps third-grade students explore and celebrate differences. Presented on May 15, Understanding Differences Day featured hands-on activities and presentations throughout the day, hosted by school staff members and volunteers.

Covered topics covered physical disabilities (including visual and hearing impairments), as well as developmental and learning disabilities. Students engaged in interactive learning activities that included the maneuvering of crutches and wheelchairs (supplied by Little Silver Pharmacy), the making of name tags using Braille, and a demonstration of how a visually impaired person might keep track of money and organize food.

Guest speakers included Lori Timney, who is hearing-impaired and who shared her life experiences with students. Volunteer Sarah Maris helped students to understand the challenges faced by individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Down’s syndrome, and cerebral palsy. Sickles School Social Worker Nicole Green and Sickles School Psychologist Ashley Goral hosted an information session about learning disabilities; this session included presentations by students from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School who discussed their personal experiences and ways in which they have learned to cope through the years. At the conclusion of the morning and afternoon sessions, all of the third grade students participated in reflective writing sessions based on what they had learned.

Sickles School 5Volunteer Sarah Maris shares her presentation on differences in development with Sickles School third graders.

Due to the success of “Understanding Differences Day,” the longstanding tradition has been expanded during the past two years to include activities for students in other grades. This was the first year that students in first through sixth grades participated in Understanding Differences Programs.

For example, Sickles School first graders participated in the “I’m Thumbody” activity. The students discovered that — just as no two thumbprints are ever identical — individuals all have different likes, feelings, and abilities as well. Second graders enjoyed the internationally acclaimed “Kids on the Block” puppet show, featuring characters who have different abilities but are still “regular” kids. After the performance, the second graders had the opportunity to interact with the puppets and ask questions about their differences.

At Knollwood School, the fourth graders participated in a field trip to SPUR (Special People United to Ride), a therapeutic horseback riding center.

Fifth graders learned about the sixth sense – our social sense – with which many individuals on the Autism Spectrum struggle. Knollwood School Special Education Teacher Kevin Burke, Art Teacher Chris Dudick, Board Certified Behavior Anaylst Beth Keefe, and School Counselor Cara Remmert assisted the students as they utilized SILAS (Social Integration Learning Animation Software) which is designed to teach social skills.

Knollwood School Art Teacher Kelly Fogas involved sixth-grade students in a perspective-taking art projects.

At the conclusion of their learning sessions, the fifth and sixth graders received “Kind Cards” encouraging them to “pay it forward” and spread kindness.

Understanding Differences Day and the Understanding Differences Programs were co-chaired by Suzanne Butler, Liza Doonan, and Britt Garrison of the Fair Haven Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Many PTA volunteers assisted with the planning and hosting of activities and information sessions.