Sharon Jones, an academic behavior specialist, is the mother of an Autistic son and helped plan various events and lessons to help scholars and parents alike learn about and better understand people with Autism.
Riverton’s K-2 scholars decorated their wing with colored puzzle pieces, which are symbols that signify the complexity of the Autism spectrum. Scholars also partook in a demonstration in the gym, showing how wide the Autism spectrum is.
“I said, ‘Somebody go to one end of the gym and someone go the other end’,” Jones said. “That's how big the spectrum is. It’s bigger than that because you can fall anywhere in between there and you get different personalities. It's like a snowflake. No two snowflakes are the same.”
Scholars were able to interweave Moral Focus virtues into the celebration. They related virtues such as compassion and integrity into learning more about Autism and people with Autism.
The school also posted boards full of celebrities on the Autism spectrum such as “Peanuts” comic creator Charles Schulz, actor Dan Aykroyd, and actor Anthony Hopkins. Jones said a lot of the parents did not realize those prominent figures had Autism.
“It really sparked a lot of conversations from parents who were just waiting for their kids who were reading the bulletin boards as well as the scholars because we had it all around every floor and we have three floors,” Jones said. “Every floor had different actors and performers, even down to Olympians.”
Nicole Verdone is a second grade special education teacher at Riverton, which has outperformed the local district for 10 years. She is also the mother of an Autistic son. Her students performed the song “Not So Different” at an assembly for K-2 students that celebrated Autism Awareness Month.
“I cried the first five times I heard it,” Verdone said. “The song is about the Autism spectrum and how there's many different degrees to it and how you need to be more patient and listen and show love to one another.”
Parents were also able to get involved. Jones held a screening of the documentary “Autistic Like Me.” She was the executive producer of the documentary and her husband, Charles, was the director.
“Autistic Like Me” showed parents the experience of the father of an Autistic child. Charles went on a retreat with other fathers of Autistic children to dive deeper into their experiences.
Jones said some parents found the documentary helpful and made realizations about the challenges parenting children with Autism brings.
Jones said she hopes people take time every April to learn more about Autism, even if it isn’t for the entire month.
“If they looked at the documentary or they discussed it with their class, they'll learn something,” Jones said. “Maybe even if you change your behavior towards one person a year. If we can all change our behavior toward one person, think how many people we can touch.”
Way to help scholars understand their peers, Riverton!
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Riverton Street Charter School is a tuition-free, public charter school in St. Albans, New York, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
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