Abilities Day: Lessons in Compassion and Acceptance at Garden Grove

First graders at Garden Grove Elementary try out the Braille machine. Braille is a system of raised dots on paper that enable the visually impaired to read books.
First graders at Garden Grove Elementary try out the Braille machine. Braille is a system of raised dots on paper that enable the visually impaired to read books.

The second and third graders sitting in Andrea Keller’s classroom are learning a little differently this day.

Three sound systems positioned around the room are each blaring different lectures or music. Throughout this cacophony of sound, the students are asked to work their way individually through a timed reading comprehension lesson.

Most are not successful and many are frustrated by their own lack of concentration.

This short moment was used by Keller in last month’s Abilities Day at Simi Valley’s Garden Grove Elementary School to show these students how other students with learning disabilities struggle in class.

Principal Martha Feinstein said this all-day event happens each year.

“We do it because we mainstream kids at every opportunity,” she said, referring to Special Education children who attend Garden Grove. Mainstreaming means that wherever and whenever possible, Special Education children attend classes with their non-assisted peers.

“It gives students a little more awareness of what goes on for some students,” she said.

It's difficult for these students to concentrate with the chaotic noise playing in the background. This mimics what some students with learning disabilities may experience every day in class.
It’s difficult for these students to concentrate with the chaotic noise playing in the background. This mimics what some students with learning disabilities may experience every day in class.

In another classroom, students are shown how visually impaired peers are taught, using Braille and hands-on learning tools. Soft books with lots of texture and cut-out boards with fitted shapes help small hands identify shapes and materials in the absence of sight.

Students in the outside lunch area are learning basic American Sign Language words to communicate.

And on the kindergarten play area, fifth graders learn about physical therapy. They get to try-out a wheelchair, crutches and other equipment used to enable mobility.

Every student rotates throughout the day to different classrooms focused on a specific medical need. By the day’s end, there’s a lot of understanding accomplished, Feinstein said.

American Sign Language teacher Diana Eschenbach shows sixth graders how to sign their names.
American Sign Language teacher Diana Eschenbach shows sixth graders how to sign their names.

“There’s a lot of empathy here already, but there’s always more after,” she said.

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