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Little learners in North Olmsted master empathy and inclusiveness

North Olmsted students
Posted at 11:28 AM, Dec 24, 2021

NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio — This pandemic has reshaped the world around us, including our schools.

Students are taking on much more than just homework. They’re navigating new learning methods, all while balancing the divisiveness of our communities.

Even though the school day was wrapped in North Olmsted, the gymnasium at Chestnut Intermediate was full. The group of third, fourth and fifth grade students stuck around around for a special club.

It’s called Helping Hands Friends Club.

“We’re in the infancy stage right now, but it’s amazing how just two meetings in...the difference you’re seeing in the way kids are acting towards one another in the hallway,” said Principal Brett Monnin.

Brand new this school year, the club serves as a disability awareness program, helping students learn attitudes of acceptance, dignity and respect towards all people — especially those with disabilities.

“We don’t want to disinclude anybody. We are here to help them fit in and make them feel like they aren’t left out,” said fifth-grader Dallas Esson.

“I thought this was a perfect way you know what to bring this is in and just embrace our differences and celebrate each other,” said Administrative Assistant Vickie Lofton.

Lofton is the brains behind Helping Hands. She says with the pandemic, a charged political climate and constant changes, the students needed a way to connect with one another.

“There’s so much negative out there that’s going on and you know we’re trying to figure that out but in the meantime i want positive for our students,” Lofton said.

Using simple activities, teachers and staff help students experience what it may be like to go through school with a disability.

Just three meetings in, Monnin believes it’s making a difference.

“I think I’ve learned more how to help people in different ways,” said fourth-grader Gracie Fuoco.

Especially for students whose socialization skills took a step backwards with remote learning.

“And because of that, it is even more crucial at this time. It’s more important,” Monnin said.

“We’re moving in the right direction. (It) might be slow, but compared to where we were a year and a half ago it’s an improvement,” Lofton said.

RELATED: In Beachwood, students from many backgrounds are leading the charge for inclusion, value, respect

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