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Kinser Elementary teaches kids everyone has different "abilities"

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-05-16

What is it actually like to not be able to see or hear? Kids at the Kinser Elementary School found out last week, on Friday during the school's third annual "Abilities Awareness Day". The event was first organized by Mary Ann Collins, a teacher at Kinser Elementary, who wanted to introduce kids to the world of handicapped children. She thought the students needed to be aware of the different "abilities" that children have. The name of the event is called "Abilities Awareness" instead of "Disabilities Awareness" to further promote a positive image for handicapped people.

This year's event was co-organized by Collins and Deidra Stephens. It brought in the help of many people, including 80 Marines from Camp Kinser and MCAS Futenma. The marines played an important role as volunteers, and had a very enjoyable working relationship with the Kinser teachers and children.

The day was filled with twenty five sessions that were designed to give each participating child a chance to experience a small part of what it is to be handicapped. The sessions were held at different stations that were set up around the school, both inside and outside. Teachers signed up for as many classes as they liked, and simply brought their students to each session. The volunteers then took over by getting the kids organized and giving them instructions. There were approximately two to three volunteers for each particular session, and their efforts made the day possible. The sessions included videos, sign language, a blind walk, wheelchair races, split pea Braille, foot painting, and non-dominant hand activities, among others.

Each session focused on a particular skill, which was designed to simulate having a certain "disability". The videos gave students an introduction to the different types of handicaps other children face, and the problems some handicaps can present. However, the videos also made the children realize that handicapped people are no different than everyone else, and that they are able to do many of the things that people without handicaps can do. The non-dominant hand activities along with one-handed tasks, gave children an idea what someone with neurological impairment or the inability to use an arm for certain motor skills must face. At one of the stations, the kids had to perform certain tasks like spreading peanut butter with just one hand. Volunteer Heather Bolyard, a 22-year-old Marine, explained, "The kids thought it was easy at first, but when they actually did it, they found it to be challenging and also appreciative of what they have." Sean Coffee, another volunteer who has both a relative and a friend that is handicapped, said, "The kids learned that they can also use many different things." He also commented that "Today was fun. I enjoy helping the community. They always do a lot for us, so it was a good feeling to be able to give something back."

The "blind walk" session had kids lead a blindfolded partner around a course. The non-blindfolded kids became the eyes for their friends, and had to guide their companions verbally, and by holding on to them. Eight year old Brice Johnson and Jennifer Primeau both said that they realized what it must be like to be blind, and that it made them want to offer help to a blind person having some trouble.

The kids also got much enjoyment from learning to write their name in Braille, and in learning some sign language. Susan Shelton, a licensed teacher for the hearing impaired, had children asking many questions and giving comments during her sessions. "The kids are very interested, and have a lot of enthusiasm," said Shelton.

All of the sessions were very educational and fun for the students. Nichole Kilber, a pre-school teacher for developmentally delayed children, commented, "The kids get a real sense for other children their age that have disabilities. It's fun for them, but they're also getting a good educational experience with each session. It's also good for the volunteers, who get a chance to work with children and learn about handicaps themselves. "I think it's interesting. You can see the increase in the educational levels. I like the kids, and it gives me a good chance to work with them," commented Davis Jeremy, a 20-year-old volunteer from the Marine Corps.

There was definitely a special feeling within the school, and everyone involved thought that the day was a success. The biggest winners were the many handicapped children of the world that were not actually there. They can now feel assured that at least the kids, teachers, and volunteers from Kinser Elementary School will treat them not as someone with a "disability", but instead as another child with a "special ability". Hopefully, we can all learn to accept that everyone has a "special ability", and that our differences from each other is what makes us unique as individuals. Inside our hearts however, we are all the same.

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