Three years ago, Jennifer Springer, a second-grade special education teacher at Berg Elementary School, had a simple idea: she wanted to teach kids how to interact with people with disabilities.
Now her simple idea has grown significantly. She and Miranda Bratland, a fellow Berg special education teacher, have designed a nearly two-week long unit that involves all Berg second graders. During this time, they teach them what it’s like to have disability, how to properly interact with a person who may have a disability, bring in guest speakers and conduct a number of activities.
“We are both really passionate about spreading awareness to kids about people with disabilities,” Jennifer said. “Both of us have seen firsthand how people with disabilities are treated by both kids and adults and we’ve come to realize it’s a lack of knowledge that causes a lot of this.”
The unit included seven mini-lessons total and the guest speakers included former students of theirs, Tobias Prime, the son of fellow Berg teacher Amy Prime, a middle school student with Tourette Syndrome, a local adult with a disability, and Miranda’s son, Ethan.
“Ethan has Down Syndrome,” Miranda explained. “And during our unit, March 5 was ‘Spread the Word to End the Word,’ so I did a presentation about not using the “R” word. Then I showed (them) a slide and said ‘Let me tell you why this is so important to me. Meet Ethan Bratland. Ethan is a son, a brother and an all around cool kid.’”
Miranda said by being able to put a face on the subject, it made the kids realize how hurtful using the “R” word can be.
“Anybody who meets Ethan instantly loves him,” Miranda said. “I promised them that I would bring him in as one of our guests and that is what we did on the last day. Ethan came in and I was able to share with them, what Ethan’s really great at, what he has a hard time with and show them a video of him doing his therapy — he does physical therapy and occupational speech therapy — to show them how we are working with him to be the best person he can be despite having a disability.”
This year was the first year Ethan was involved with the project and Jennifer knows that he made an impact.
“We just really feel aren’t thinking about the fact they are offending a person or a group of people when they use that word,” Jennifer said. “I think it really helped the kids to have a connection and to hear how harmful that is — even if you are talking about a TV show — whatever context you use it in, it’s hurtful.”
Berg’s second-grade students take a field trip to Progress Industries annually and both teachers knew this would be a good way to show their students how to properly interact with the “People of Service” at Progress when they arrive and not be afraid to ask them questions.
The teachers expressed a lot of gratitude towards the Berg second-grade team for allowing them to expand upon this unit and make sure every student in that grade level participates.
“We’ve got an outstanding second-grade team here that was more than willing to find the right time for us,” Jennifer said.
“They absolutely see the value in this and are absolutely supportive, along with our principals, they’re all wonderfully supportive,” Miranda said.