Salisbury Academy students learn lessons of inclusion while spreading holiday cheer

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 4, 2014

Salisbury Academy students collaborated with other local nonprofits to learn about the benefits of serving others and to spread some holiday cheer.

For several years, Salisbury Academy has decorated a tree for The Arc of Rowan Festival of Trees, an annual event showcasing a collection of beautifully decorated Christmas trees that is a wonderful kick-off to the holiday season. The festival serves as a fundraiser and awareness initiative for The Arc of Rowan, which is devoted to promoting and improving supports and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

This year, fifth-grade teacher Jessica Goodman wanted to deepen the lessons her students learned through the project.

“They are learning how to be better stewards of their community,” she said.

The class chose to partner with Footprints in the Community, a nonprofit organization that aims to bridge the gap for children with special needs by increasing their participation in community activities.

Dr. Ashley Deaton, founder of Footprints in the Community, spoke with the class about the mission of the organization and its programs.

“It was wonderful for my students to learn more about children with special needs in our community,” Goodman said. “These kids, they learned, enjoy the same activities that they do like playing sports, art, dancing, and spending time with friends. We learned how Footprints makes unique opportunities available for their campers and the impact that camp has on the lives of so many children.”

During the planning process to decorate the tree, Salisbury Academy students collaborated with children with special needs served by Footprints in the Community to make ornaments. The students selected the theme of “Night and day: More alike than different.”

One side of the tree will be decorated in colors of the evening like the dark blue of the night sky and the silver of the moon. The other side will shine brightly like the sun with gold and yellow decorations.

Hosted at Partners In Learning Child Development and Family Resource Center, students worked side by side with young children with special needs making pinecone and angel ornaments that engaged their fine motor skills.

“It was fun and it makes you feel good to get to work with younger children,” said Wade Robins, fifth grade student. “We learned about their camps and other programs they get to do during the year.”

“We look to collaborate with organizations in the community on projects, field trips, and other learning experiences for our students because we find them to be mutually beneficial,” said Head of School Beverly Fowler. “Our community offers so many opportunities for our students to learn about the benefits of serving others. What a wonderful opportunity for us to get to partner with Footprints In The Community and Partners In Learning on a project where our students can learn and serve their community and benefit The Arc of Rowan.”

“The children we serve get so much out of activities with their typically developing peers,” said Deaton. “All children benefit from engaging with those who are different from them. Activities like this benefit everyone involved and that is what Footprints is all about.”

“My hope is that the students will feel more confident in their knowledge of people in our community,” said Goodman. “At their age, they are starting to realize the impact they can have on others and what a difference they can make. Showing grace and compassion towards all sorts of people is a lesson for them to carry throughout their lives.”

The Salisbury Academy tree is one of many that may be viewed at The Arc of Rowan event this weekend.