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Wonder Fair encourages students to be kind Furnace Brook sixth graders experience life with disabilities

Marshfield Mariner - 1/31/2018

Sixth graders at Furnace Brook Middle School took a walk in their classmates' shoes last week, learning first-hand what it is like to live with both seen and unseen disabilities.

At the Wonder Fair on Friday, Jan. 26, students were exposed to eight stations simulating different physical and mental disabilities, from autism and being in a wheelchair to anxiety, ADHD and hearing loss.

"They get to experience exactly what it's like to have that disability," said Dr. Susan Dupuis, Assistant Superintendent for Special Education and Pupil Personnel, who has been organizing the fair since its inception five years ago. "We end with a kindness video and have a dialogue about what they've learned that they didn't know before."

At one station, students tried to distract other students by making noises around them, bouncing a basketball near them and spraying Fabreeze above their heads while they try to focus on a word search, imitating what it feels like to try to focus on schoolwork with ADHD.

"We're letting the kids experience what it feels like to have ADHD, but of course we're magnifying the distraction," said Yvonne O'Neil, who was manning the ADHD station.

"There are quite a few kids that can focus and not let it bother them, but someone actually dealing with ADHD would feel it right in their face. They're having fun with it.

At another station, students listened to audio of what it sounds like to have moderate or severe hearing impairments while trying to follow along with a spelling test. Other stations gave students a sense of how to deal with some struggles that they all experience, such as having anxiety, asking them to stack 50 pennies in a single pile with one hand in one minute.

Pam Vigneau, who was orchestrating the wheelchair station, has volunteered at the fair every year it's been held.

"I just love it, I love the kids and being able to help out," she said. "They're learning a lot, they can be doing this, but they're telling me all about the other stations, it's great."

Dupuis said the autism station resonates particular well with the sixth graders.

"They've had so much experience with hearing [Autism Spectrum Disorder] and autism, to experience it and to understand that there's this sensory piece, that there's this learning piece, that there's this whole thing about clothes and having tags, they come back with a really good sense of what it's like for those kids in the school who have those disabilities," she said.

Each year, the fair ties in with the school's selection for One Book, One School, which tasks all students, faculty and staff at the school to read the same book over the course of a month. This year's book, fittingly, was "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio, which tells the story of a boy born with a facial deformity who struggles with acceptance after enrolling in a new school after years of being home schooled.

The simple message of the book, "be kind," was echoed throughout Friday's activities.

"It's always about choosing kindness, no matter what," Dupuis said. "I think we're really building empathy and compassion, and they're also getting the skills they need if they encounter people with these disabilities."

Follow James Kukstis on Twitter at @MarinerJamesK.


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