Nueva first graders are learning to be kind, compassionate, empathetic citizens. They are currently studying ableism, a unit the first grade teachers say is redefining community and understanding people who are often misunderstood and marginalized.
According to the Center for Disability Rights, ableism is defined as “a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ in one form or the other.”
“We want to teach the children to walk with people who have challenges while building empathy,” explained first-grade teacher Diana Friedman. “I understand ableism firsthand—my mom had polio when she was 13. She had many surgeries but never complained, and my mom went on to live an incredible life.”
First-grade teacher Emily Mitchell hopes to take her class to the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, once the coronavirus pandemic settles down. The beautiful park was especially designed for people with disabilities; there is even a dignity slide and a sensory zone for people with autism.
“We are teaching our students to become kindness ambassadors,” Emily noted. “We’re reading many wonderful stories to the children, including Six Dots, the story of Louis Braille, who created the Braille system based on the Morse code.
Other ableism book favorites have included A Boy Called Bat, the story of a boy on the autism spectrum, and The Sound of Silence, the remarkable tale of a young boy who grows up with two deaf parents.
“You could be born without a body part (except for your heart or brain),” noted first grader Macallister B. “In the story Emmanuel’s Dream, a guy was born with a leg that didn’t work, but he ended up riding a bike for 40 miles a day! We’re learning that if people need help, you need to help them.”
“We are learning about ableism so that when we grow older, we can treat people correctly,” said first grader Toby G. “We all just need to be a little kinder.”