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Middle school kids study diversity

by Merrie Leininger

Carson Valley Middle School students learned more than the three Rs in February, which was designated “Celebrate Diversity Month” in the school.

Many teachers took advantage of the month, which is officially Black History Month, to give lessons on empathy.

Elizabeth Leiknes taught a unit on the Civil War, Heidi Landwehr’s 9th grade biology class learned about the randomness of inherited traits and Mike Rechs’s 8th grade history class wrote biographies about African Americans who changed history.

Each class which focused on diversity in February was given acknowledgement in the morning announcements.

The idea came from a desire to recognize diversity in the school, said Susan Hallawell, advisor of the Student Assistance Program.

“We wanted to do something to celebrate and promote tolerance in school,” Hallawell said.

Her 8th grade English classes wrote poems or made posters about several human rights issues they read about in class.

“It is good for an 8th grader, who can be so wrapped up in themselves,” she said.

One of her students, Nolan Brockhage, made a poster about the civil rights movement.

“(It taught me) it wasn’t right what they had to do,” Nolan said.

Jamie Kaminski’s 7th and 9th grade P.E. classes got a lesson in physical disabilities this week when they were required to perform seven activities as if they had seven different disabilities.

The students moved around the gym, playing basketball in wheelchairs; reading aloud with marshmallows in their mouths; kicking a soccer ball to each other while wearing sight-impairment goggles; being expected to follow directions from a tape with distorted volume; writing the alphabet with their thumbs and fingers taped; jogging while blindfolded; and playing badminton with their non-dominant hand.

Before the class began, Kaminski instructed her students – this is not a joke.

“We are all different – we all have different abilities. Some are better at endurance running and some are better at sprinting. Some people have physical limitations such as visual impairment or physical disabilities,” Kaminski told her class. “Just for five minutes, being in a wheelchair might be fun, but if you had to be in it all the time, everyday life would be harder. It would be very difficult just to go down those stairs or play basketball. This requires you to be on task and have some maturity.”

Students received five points for writing down how they felt during each activity.

Mark Cerruti, 12, said right away he felt awkward when blindfolded, even though another student was supposed to be protecting Mark from hurting himself.

“I ran into the pole. It hurt. It’s frustrating and it’s weird. It’s not very fun,” Mark said.

Amanda Moline, 11, said the class was fun, but she felt she got a small taste of how difficult it would be to have a disability.

“Talking with the marshmallows in my mouth felt really strange. I heard weird sounds coming out. Everything’s mixed up and you get confused,” Amanda said.

Ryan Waelbrock, 13, said writing the alphabet with his hand taped to simulate limited mobility was very difficult.

“It gets people to think about how they want to be treated,” Ryan said.

Kaminski said that’s exactly what she wanted to do.

“I wanted them to be more aware of the differences and I hope they would have some compassion,” she said.

The following is a poem written by Taryn Sedgwick in Susan Hallawell’s class. Taryn wrote about the plight of Native Americans.

The Wish

She cradled her son in her arms

As her husband told her the news.

His voice cracked

When he said the whites were coming to take their land.

She knows he is a warrior

And they will soon depart with knowing the fact

That they might not ever see each other again.

The day finally comes when the news arrives.

The warriors attacked by surprise,

They were victorious and lost few men, but

One of the men they did lose was her husband.

He fought heroically in his last minutes before doom.

She gathers her belongings into a sack

So she and her son will be ready for the move.

Even though they won

The whites will be after them as soon as they recuperate.

She swears to herself that her son

Will know of his father and that her son will be a hero too.

While her and her son were walking

They were attacked by a band of whites.

She died a severe death

But the son lived.

He will grow up a gentlemen

To the whites

With his white family.

The boy will never know his past

His mother’s dream will never be fulfilled.