Differing Abilities Week:

Encouraging Education, Empathy and Inclusion of Smithfield Students With Special Needs

By Brittni Henderson

Smithfield Special Education Local Advisory Committee (SSELAC) held their first ever Differing Abilities Week in partnership with Anna M. McCabe Elementary School the first week in June. Created by the SSELAC to raise awareness, the week was designed with the goal to give all students a chance to learn what it’s like for their peers living with various special needs. The week was structured to focus on a different special need on each day, with different presentations, experiments, activities, and other informative seminars for children to experience.

In what they hope will continue as an annual event, the week was planned as follows: Monday—Cerebral Palsy; Tuesday—Autism; Wednesday—Visual Impairment; Thursday—Hearing Impairment; Friday—Down syndrome and Special Olympics Day.

With the assistance of SSELAC members and educators in town, the Differing Abilities Week was coordinated by physical education teacher Mrs. Alicia Marques-Jordan (or Mrs. MJ), and hosted by Anna M. McCabe Elementary School. Students and attendees wore colors in support of each day, such as green for Cerebral Palsy awareness, white for visual impairment, blue for autism awareness and more. Exercises included having the children attempt to catch a ball with their non-dominant hand (while wearing a mitten over that hand) to replicate Cerebral Palsy, and completing tasks without speaking to experience the challenge of hearing impairment. Speakers also visited McCabe to discuss the various special needs topics featured during the week.

The week concluded with a Walk-a-Thon at the Smithfield High School track. Former McCabe students who are also Special Olympics participants also joined in on the fun. A medal presentation at an assembly immediately followed the walk.

Early this year, SSELAC was given a new life as Smithfield resident Holly DelRossi began noticing that it had little support due to many of the previous members’ children “aging out” of Smithfield schools. Determined to find a community group to support her son and others in town, she worked to revive Smithfield’s advisory committee.

For the Smithfield chapter, which DelRossi co-chairs, the advisory committee is made up of parents and school staff in partnership with the Town’s special education director.

While the inaugural weeklong celebration went off without any major issues, Marques-Jordan hopes to have it take place earlier in the school year to increase impact.

“Students can start the school year off with a greater respect and tolerance for those with differing abilities,” she says, adding that she also hopes that this initiative will go districtwide in years to come.

For more information on how to get involved in SSELAC, contact the organization by email at SmithfieldSSELAC@gmail.com or visit the Smithfield Special Education Local Advisory Committee Group on Facebook.