Glandorf students learn about life with disabilities

Mar. 11—GLANDORF — When it comes to understanding the lives of those living with disabilities or different abilities, students at Glandorf Elementary School had the opportunity to experience that kind of life firsthand.

Dragon KIND (Kids Impacted by Needs and Differences) allowed 5th through 8th-grade students the opportunity to experience how those with various disabilities live day-to-day, featuring stations that highlighted the experiences of those with mobility impairments, hearing and vision impairments and other issues while learning also about the experiences of those dealing with autism, learning disabilities, mental health challenges and communication impairments. A similar event was held last year at Ottawa Elementary School, both of which aim to help students with disabilities find a new sense of community with their fellow classmates.

Speaking at the event was Ashley Goecke, the mother of a 7-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy currently attending Ottawa Elementary School. Sharing her experiences as a parent allowed Goecke to help students understand life for children with these conditions.

"To see my child go through life, she's just wanting the world to accept her like they would any other kid," she said. "Just remember that kids that have differences, they just want to be like everyone else and be accepted and be friends. Just come up and say hi to her. She may not be able to say hi back to you, but she's going to give you a big smile and she's going to be a happy little girl that you came up just to say hi to her."

This welcoming attitude is one that Ottawa-Glandorf director of special services Jennifer Croy believes is continually being fostered in that district, and she expressed optimism that events like this one will help to continue to move the district in that inclusive direction.

"Our mission is to support all students," she said. "With this type of a day, we get to put that into practice, and the students get that hands-on expertise for what a day in the life might be like with that."

Occupational therapist Trisha Klausing works with children with disabilities, and working with students Monday was, for her, an encouraging start that she hoped will help keep the conversation going regarding interactions with students with disabilities.

"It shouldn't just be a one-day event," she said. "We hope that it will continue on, continuing in everyday conversation so that everyone can be kind to other peers."

Eighth-grader Kendall Mayhew found Monday's experience enlightening, giving her a newfound appreciation for how people in these situations overcome obstacles that these conditions present.

"It's really cool to understand what other people are going through," she said. "I didn't notice how hard it may be for someone with their non-dominant hand to, say, tie their shoes. It's really hard, and you don't recognize that until you try it."