Anoka students shine a spotlight on disabilities

9:02 AM, Apr 18, 2013   |    comments
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ANOKA, Minn. -- One by one, students appear in the video they know their entire school will see.  While teens tend to shun labels, these students willingly show theirs.

Attention Deficit Disorder, Vision Impairment, Shaken Baby Syndrome.  The labels appear over the images of Anoka High School students who are talking to the camera about their disabilities.

The labels don't define the students,  but they do provide a reference point.

"Before the movie, they, like, kids, wouldn't even talk to me," explained ninth grader Jordan Peschong.  "They said, 'I didn't even know you had a disability.'"

Jordan says he received a life-changing injury in child care known as shaken baby syndrome.

Jordan says among other things, he is stressed in crowded situations, like school.  Loud noises bother him.  None of this is visible to his peers, who just know he has difficulty in some situations.

That's why Jordan's special education teacher, Ann Sarazin, decided to issue a challenge to her students.

"I asked them, is this something you guys want to explore?" said Sarazin.

She told her students they could teach others.   Working with members of the Anoka High School student council, the teens came up with the idea of a Disabilities Week at Anoka, where mainstream peers could learn about a different disability each day, and what it's like to be a student living with a disability.

"So on the visual impairment, we had people with blindfolds and yardsticks trying to find their way through the lockers," said Student Council President Aly Cross.

Haley Hodgin navigates those lockers and hallways every day with vision impairment.  She was born with glaucoma and has endured multiple surgeries, not always successful, to preserve what vision she has.

"It can affect how you feel accepted in life and how people might look at you and understand you," Haley said.

The ninth grader said because her eyes "look different" some people assume she's "high."

Because of the impairment, Haley finds navigating stairs and crowded hallways at school can be difficult, if not scary -- especially when people give her wrong directions.

 Haley and her classmates talk about this and other aspects of their disabilities in the video made by Anoka senior Eric Collier.

"And I have narcolepsy myself, anyways, so the fact that I could do a video on disabilities is relevant to me because I know what it's like," Collier said.

"Some people are affected because they can't hear, or they can't see.  Some people are affected because they can't pay attention.  Some people are affected because they can't interpret information quick enough," he added.

"If you can understand that everyone might have their own disability then it's easier to accept people for who they are," said Collier.

Senior Nicole Pexa was in charge of organizing Disability Week, when Collier's video was shown to the entire student body. That and events throughout the week give her hope students will be more understanding of each others' uniqueness.

"I think a lot of people are more open about talking about it than before," Pexa said. 

Sarazin said the video has spread quickly among educators within the district and beyond.  The reaction from her students has been enthusiastic.

"They were thrilled," Sarazin said.  They couldn't believe they would have the opportunity to be a part of it and to help to teach their peers."

"They feel like they are a true member of the school, and they are being included, and invited into things that maybe they haven't had before," Sarazin said.



(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved.)

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