By Abigail Hernandez – Colorado Springs, Colorado … Students in second through fourth grades at Springs Adventist Academy are learning about individuals who live with disabilities.

Pupils are engaging in the subject through a series of readings, research, guest speakers, and activities.

In the month of September, they were introduced to Dr. Mary Schlieder, Union College professor, and head of the “Circle of Friends” inclusion program at Lincoln Public Schools. Schlieder expressed that everyone has certain strengths and challenges, pointing out that we are all more alike than we are different.

In November, the class met with Erwin Velbis, a stroke survivor. He explained to the students that he experienced two strokes and how they drastically changed his life. He was a nurse anesthetist previously, and he discussed how he would get annoyed with stroke patients because they were slow and were difficult to understand. Now, Velbis, a stroke survivor himself feels what his patients felt and asked the students “to pray for those with disabilities.”

The elementary pupils also learned about a fifth grader who has cerebal palsy by reading the book “Out of My Mind” by Sharon M. Draper. The story takes the readers along the emotional rollercoaster of one who is physically disabled and not able to talk, yet is mentally sharper than most people.

Along with these experiences, students are each researching disabilities and writing a short essay on one disability, including how to show empathy towards them. Along with the essay, they are preparing an art piece to create awareness in others that it is okay to be different.

The class work will be displayed in January at the Ruth Holley Public Library in Colorado Springs.

–Abigail Hernandez is second – fourth grade teacher at Springs Adventist Academy; photo supplied (students without masks in picture are under the age 10 and are exempt from the mask mandate.)