News & Views
Northern Va. elementary school combats bullying with unique approach
ANNANDALE, Va (ABC7) — Camelot Elementary School in Fairfax County has a plan to ensure bullying doesn’t happen between students.
They are celebrating Acceptance Month for the entire month of February.
They have created activities to help students learn more about disabilities so students don’t pick on each other’s differences.
Samantha Gabrl is in 6th grade and participates in a program that helps students with disabilities connect with others.
“Why would you pick on someone or be mean to somebody for something they can’t change,” Gabrll said.
On Friday, students gathered in the gym playing games that taught them about disabilities.
“You’re actually doing it they make it so you feel as if you have that disability even though you don’t,” Gabrl said.
Abby Allen said her brother has Autism. Sensory exercises helped her understand how he thinks.
The students also learned about communication, fine motor skills, and visual impairment.
When it comes to bullying, Allen said she doesn’t want her brother to be a target, so she does her part to make her school a kinder place.
“I think that’s a really wrong thing to do it’s something you shouldn’t be doing, I would hate if my brother was bullied,” Allen said.
Source Date: February 21, 2020
The “Walk in My Shoes” School Program: Shifting Mindsets and Starting Conversations
Meet Margaret Behrns, creator of the Walk in My Shoes program for children. Margaret believes that as students gain understanding about developmental, physical and health challenges faced by their peers, including food allergies, they will be more supportive and proactive about being part of the solution.
With a Master’s in Community Health Education from the University of Maryland, Margaret’s professional experience includes managing national and bilingual SAMHSA health communications projects. Currently, she is a cognitive trainer at Learning Rx. She has also served as Floris Elementary’s special education parent liaison for many years and is active in her county’s special education PTA.
My Kid’s Food Allergies was excited to have an opportunity to ask Margaret about the program she developed for school use, to teach children to be empathetic and aware of the challenges that other kids face.
MKFA: Walk in My Shoes seems like such a revolutionary program. Especially when it comes to talking about food allergies, most programs seem geared toward the individual child and their family. Walk in My Shoes is different because it’s for the entire school, and it touches on all kinds of disabilities and challenges, food allergies among them. Can you tell us how the idea came about?
Margaret Behrns: Walk in My Shoes is a wonderful example of how school PTA, staff, and administrators can collaborate to bring innovative programming to their students. The food allergy activity is unique to this program, but the program concept is based on an existing autism awareness initiative that I wanted to bring to our school, Floris Elementary.
Floris was very supportive but suggested an adaptation of the program: a broader scope so that any developmental challenges could be included. The special education department added a pre-teaching component that would take place in the days leading up to the event. The counseling department added a debriefing component in the days following the event, to check for understanding and reinforce messages.
I kept the perspective-taking components of the original program and added a focus on how the students could help a friend. We structured each activity with the following objectives:
Increase knowledge of various developmental challenges by providing information about what the disability is (or in some cases, why a behavior occurs)
Increase empathy by providing opportunities to take the perspective of students with the challenge
Increase the potential for behavior change by having students brainstorm ways they could help a friend with a challenge.
MKFA: Obviously, starting up any sort of program there are going to be challenges, including differing opinions. Did you feel like you had the support that you needed from your school administration and PTA, or were there some eye rolls or obstacles? Do you have suggestions for those wanting to bring this to their own schools but aren't sure how?
M.B.: I was fortunate that the teachers and administrators at Floris were supportive of this idea. However, parents frequently contact me for help in bringing the program to their school. Here are three tips on how to gain buy-in:
Find an ally. Get to know your PTA, administrators, counselors, and special education teachers. See who can support your mission to bring the program to your school.
Learn the ropes. Find out when the new PTA board will meet and send them a proposal in time for it to be included in the budget.
Take them to an event. Even with the best proposal, it can be difficult to convey the incredible impact of this program. If there is a Walk in My Shoes event in your area, take a representative of your school. It is very special to be surrounded by students as new ideas and thoughts are presented and they realize they can help.
MKFA: Walk in My Shoes has been used by several elementary schools, but also was adapted for older students. Do you feel like this program has had a lasting effect on the children who experience it?
M.B.: The wonderful special education teacher who coordinates the school-side aspects of the program collects feedback each year by having students write reactions on sticky notes. They consistently say how much they enjoyed the event, that they gained a new understanding of what it can be like for students with differing abilities, that they learned not to take their abilities for granted, and that they learned ways they can help. This is a very positive and powerful event for the kids, teachers, volunteers, and organizers, and we enjoy reliving the joy of it through these notes.
This past December, three 8th-grade students who had previously experienced the Walk In My Shoes program returned to lead activities for 3rd-grade students. It was gratifying to see them step into these roles and it speaks volumes about the impact they believe it has on the students.
MKFA: The Walk in My Shoes program has been around since 2015. What’s next for the program or for you?
M.B.: We plan to keep adding activities so that more challenges can be represented, and to continue our outreach and support of other schools wishing to run the program. We are also translating the activities and worksheets into Spanish through collaboration with Task-Tarea, a U.S.-based charity whose mission is to break the cycle of poverty in the Mayan villages of Guatemala through education empowerment. They will be piloting the program with teachers in rural Guatemala in the near future.
MKFA: It sounds like you have some amazing things happening, and we’re excited to get a preview as well as learn a little more of the background of how Walk in My Shoes was developed. All those who have the opportunity to experience Walk in My Shoes will grow to be more thoughtful and more aware of other's needs and struggles because of your advocacy. Thank you.
Source Date: January 31, 2020
Students at Floris Elementary School took part in Take a Walk in My Shoes
Students at Floris Elementary School took part in Take a Walk in My Shoes today, participating in activities that challenged fine motor, sensory integration, attention, vision, communication, and visual motor integration skills. Designed and run by the PTA, the program offered a broader understanding of the daily situations faced by their classmates with developmental challenges. Participation helped foster empathy for others and encourage the students to think about how they might help when they see a friend experiencing difficulties. The activities helped students learn how to be respectful, inclusive, and accepting of differences in others.
Source Date: December 3, 2015
This program showed me what other people go through.
Everybody has a different way and that’s ok.
I learned to ask "Do you want to play?"
I learned to help people when they are hurt.
Just keeping them company can make the world better.
I learned to be kind by giving people a hand if they need it.
It really gives you the perspective of people who live with those things for their entire lives.
I learned it can be hard for some people to get through the day.
I learned not to be a bully.
I thought it was easy to read but now I know that people with dyslexia find it hard to read.
You can make the world a better place by being nice and kind.
You can invite new people to play with you.
This is so important, we learned how other people feel today and tomorrow, every day of their lives!
I learned that some people can’t stop moving.
I now understand how hard it is for people with disabilities.
It taught me that other people function differently.
It was very hard to do some of the activities but now I will help other people with these challenges.
I liked it because now other kids understand that it can be very difficult to learn to read.
It was so fun, I love Walk In My Shoes!
I learned not to take what you have for granted and not to make anyone feel bad about themselves.
We appreciate your vision, creativity, and administration of the Walk In My Shoes experience. Thank you for your stewardship and helping our students grow! --Special Education Teacher
Your drive and desire to create an amazing learning opportunity for our students is priceless, well done! --Vice Principal
Thank you so much for helping us bring inclusion practices to Floris! --Principal
You're amazing! Thanks for all your hard work putting this together! --School Counselor
Thank you for making today such a wonderful event for our students! --Vice Principal
Your preparation, organization, and dedication have really paid off as staff and students alike got so much out of the day. Thank you for making Inclusion Week special for the students at Floris. --Principal
This is one of the best programs we’ve ever done at Floris. --PTA President
The kids were really trying to put themselves in other kids' shoes! They had interesting ideas on what could help someone living with this disability. I learned a lot as well!
I am blown away with how organized the event preparation is. I'm so excited!
I wish there had been a program like this when I was in school, thank you for doing this.
Thank you for organizing such a fun and well-run event. The kids loved it and learned a lot too.
It was, again, a pleasure to work with you for a great cause! As one child said to his classmates, "yeah, how can you guys help me?"
Thanks a bunch for putting this on! Great program you've put together and the children enjoyed it.
Thank you so much for organizing this great event – it is not only a great teaching moment for the participating kids but also a lot of fun for them – it was great to see all of them enjoying the time spent at the event.
I had fun and enjoyed seeing the kids experience the world of special needs. Great job! We will need this next year too!
So much fun and a great experience for the students!
I was amazed at how smoothly everything went, each station was well-planned and really looked good.
Really enjoyed supporting this! It's a great program and you do such a fabulous job running it!
Thank you for this opportunity. I would love to do this again next year!