Yates Elementary School
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FCPS AUTISM AWARENESS PIN ARTICLE
Youngsters at Yates Elementary are learning that everyone is unique and that differences need not divide them. And during Autism Awareness Month, students with special needs have taken the lead to show how classmates all fit together.
Jenny Lee, who teaches third, fourth, and fifth-graders, had the idea to transform 1-inch jigsaw puzzle pieces into snazzy lapel pins in a fundraiser for the Autism Society of the Bluegrass. After her students paint each piece blue, red, yellow, or green, Lee adds glitter and shine, and glues a small safety pin on the back. The individual pieces sell for 50 cents, though Lee has received many orders for a $2 four-piece pin featuring each color.
“My students are eager to give back to their community. It gets them involved in doing for other people,” Lee said as they closed out the first week having raised $139 toward their $500 goal.
The multifaceted project also enables the youngsters to practice various skills. For example, if a staffer requests six blue and five yellow pieces, the children will do the math and total the order, sort their products, and deliver the pins. They also write a thank-you card for every customer. “We’re trying to tie in a lot of concepts into this one project,” Lee noted.
The students in her social skills class can also practice working together as they complete real-life tasks such as cleaning the paint brushes after each session. “They are taking charge of the whole classroom and learning so much,” she said.
The service project has sparked interest throughout the Yates community, especially among the younger students and those who are unfamiliar with autism spectrum disorder.
“What has been so cool is that so many kids have come up and asked about my pin, so it’s started a lot of conversations,” said Tracy DeSpain, who teaches students with moderate and severe disabilities. “My hope is it gets kids talking because it’s OK to ask questions and be curious.”
Lee had prepped her students with short lessons and videos on autism so they’d better understand the cause behind their pin project. “A lot of my kids had no idea of what autism is,” she said.
For instance, some youngsters thought autism was a disease they could catch. They also didn’t know that friends at Yates are affected. But when a video showed a child covering her ears, the students made the connection to a classmate who wears noise-blocking headphones.
“It brought up a lot of good conversations for the kids. We always talk about how everyone’s different but we can always find the commonality between us,” Lee said. “We’re all different pieces of a puzzle fitting together.”
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MiX -It Up DaY 2015-2016!!
Like a lot of students, children at Yates Elementary tend to sit with close friends at lunch. But on Mix It Up Day, they shifted out of that comfort zone to connect with new schoolmates – particularly those from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, and cultures. The aim was to rebuff misconceptions and to illustrate tolerance and acceptance at a level the fourth- and fifth-graders could easily grasp. “It is a simple act with a profound implication. Interactions across ‘lines of difference’ can help reduce prejudice,” said PGES coach Katina Brown, who organized the cafeteria activities.