Through a week-long experience in their specials classes (PE, art, music, computer, etc.) students learn that disability does not equal inability.
They learn the meaning of big words – advocacy, inclusion and disability
They meet self-advocates – who are more alike than different from them
They experience disability simulations – and can distinguish empathy versus sympathy
They study specific disabilities – getting answers based on scientific facts
They practice disability etiquette – treating all people with respect
Students become advocates. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders.
AIM! Advocacy + Inclusion on a Mission is a disability education program. Most often, kindergarten through fifth-grade students experience AIM! through a week-long event that begins with a kick-off featuring speakers on a variety of disability-related subjects, and continuing through Common Core Content-aligned curriculum in the specials classes.
In the future AIM! will expand to an “AIM! High” program for training middle and high school ambassadors. These advocacy and inclusion ambassadors will help to further promote the principles of the program supporting natural networks and community access.
AIM! is powered by community support and led by a board of directors, including an executive director. AIM! was initially created by a small group of parents of children with disabilities, and grew organically as they discovered how timely are the messages of advocacy and inclusion.
AIM! is endorsed by the LFUCG Mayor’s Commission for Citizens With Disabilities, the Fayette County Public Schools Special Education Department and the 16th District PTA Exceptional and Gifted Student Council. Many of our leaders and volunteers are people who work with and love people with disabilities – special education teachers, students and professors at the University of Kentucky, leaders of local nonprofits, representatives who work for the Human Development Institute, who serve on the Commonwealth Council for Developmental Disabilities, and who are parent advisory council members to the local school district and the KY Commission for Children With Special Health Care Needs.
How AIM! Works
Too often, kids are told by well-intentioned adults to not ask about disability, which inherently stigmatizes it. Children are curious about their classmates. Kids (and many adults) don’t always understand their classmates’ behaviors, or their physical, emotional or learning differences. This can result in children making their own assumptions about their peers, which can ultimately block the formation of friendships that happen naturally for their counterparts without disabilities. AIM! is a great solution to this dilemma.
AIM! is generally delivered during a week-long event at elementary schools but can also be adapted to after school, scouting, church and leadership programs.
The ultimate goal is to create a culture change among our youngest generation of future leaders.
A typical AIM! week at school might look like this:
Monday: Kick-off Assembly
Weekdays: AIM! in Specials
Evening: Family Event
The optional evening event is an opportunity for the school to engage with families and the local community on the important topic of inclusion. Costs are typically covered by community sponsors, PTA, Title One or General School funds.
To celebrate the spirit of inclusion and excite students about what they will be learning the AIM! program typically kicks off with a special assembly event.
Usually this is scheduled for the morning of the first day of the program. Self advocates with disabilities talk to students about their lives. Some demonstrate the assistive technologies and equipment that they use to live a typical lifestyle. Short videos promote the topic of inclusion and advocacy.
AIM! volunteers, including self-advocates and industry professionals, are always on-hand to debunk the myths and stigmas surrounding disability by encouraging questions and conversations in a safe and informative environment. That said, school staffs maintain their leadership positions as primary conveyers of knowledge within the classrooms throughout the AIM! event.
Prior to the AIM! event, school staffs are provided with information and resources to teach the class. In addition, the teacher has the option to request a speaker on a specific disability or related topic.
Lesson plans are delivered in the Specials classes – PE, music, art, library, computer, etc. and tie into Common Core Standards. Teachers can choose from a variety of modules to create their own unique class. Each module is broken down by the objective, time needed to complete the task, CORE standard addressed, and volunteers and equipment/resources needed. Many of the curriculum modules also can be offered in general education classrooms.
The curriculum is designed to help students form positive perceptions or change negative perceptions about disabilities. The theme, “Exclusion isn’t always intentional, but inclusion must be,” is emphasized throughout the program. As a by-product, school staffs, families and community members learn too!
The AIM! planning team and community partners lend their skills and disability-related equipment relevant to each class for the students’ benefit. In addition, AIM! helps each school one-on-one with planning and community outreach, organizes each unique kick-off event, and provides volunteers and supplies for each host school.
In the art class, inclusion becomes hands-on. Students participate in projects that express their individualized beauty and gifts, as well as their collective strength and power. They see Community Inclusion come to life through creative lesson plans.
Discovering music as a Universal Language, and the amazing odds that artists have overcome to create music is inspiring. Students learn about artists from different genres who, despite their disabilities, were able to bring their talents to global audiences. Music Therapy concepts, Hidden Disabilities and Communication Disorders are also introduced.
Through a multiple station lab, students learn How the Body Works through a hands-on experience. AIM! science curriculum covers how messages are sent from the brain to your hands, legs, internal organs and other body parts. Through Sensory Stations that simulate interference with the brain’s information receptors, students can experience what a disability feels like, such as low muscle tone, sensory processing disorder, hearing impairment and blindness.
Students learn about Specific Disabilities through stories written about fictional and real characters with disabilities. Students may even step into Helen Keller’s world by writing their names with braille and exploring braille books. Self-Advocacy, Disability History, Public Policy and Empathy versus Sympathy are examples of other topics explored in this classroom.
Students become familiar with Assistive Technologies, Universal Design and Community Accessibility through the help of self-advocates and industry professionals in hands-on learning modules.
PE + Adaptive Recreation
One source of fear for some young students is the thought that people with disabilities can’t participate in the things that a typical child enjoys. Inclusion is reinforced, as students are pleasantly surprised to learn – and experience! – through adaptive recreation and sports. They become athletes who play wheelchair basketball, beep kickball, adaptive yoga and more.
Through this invigorating curriculum, students also learn about disability etiquette and the fact that disability does not equal inability.
Fifth-graders at Julius Marks Elementary created a STEM project after their AIM! experience that won first place in the 16th district with a perfect score! They also initiated a ‘candy-gram’ fundraiser in February 2014 that raised approximately $1000. They gave $800 to Guide Dogs of America, and $200 back to Community-Based Instruction in their own school! #BuildInclusion
In addition to the CORE-aligned AIM! curriculum presented in the specials classes, general education teachers may opt to present an inclusion-themed activity or discovery project to their students. We can meet with grade-specific teachers to create an experience tailored to their classrooms, if requested.
Showing a movie about disability, advocacy and inclusion (e.g. “Dolphin Tale” and “Dolphin Tale 2” tell a compelling story about Winter the dolphin with a prosthetic tail, and the advocates that surround him),
Inviting a disability subject matter expert to talk to their classes, such as a self-advocate or the parent of a child with a particular disability in the same school or district.
Creating a bulletin board that features a successful entrepreneur, athlete, musician, actor or government official that has triumphed in the face of adversity.
Organizing a writing project that encourages legislators, reporters, school administrators, business owners and other community professionals to embrace Community Inclusion and Advocacy!
Outreach activities are encouraged for schools to engage families in the AIM! curriculum.
At least one after-school activity is usually held during the week featuring AIM! themes – advocacy, inclusion, anti-bullying and more. These can be incorporated into school-planned events through the PTA, Family Resource Center or Title One Nights. For example, if the school already has an after-hours literacy event planned, AIM! volunteers can be on hand to talk to family members about what the students are learning. Service dogs and disability-related speakers also can be booked for these events, with enough advance notice.
In a case where the local community is invited to a school-sponsored event beyond families of students, AIM! distributes a press release to local media and works with the local school district to promote the event via district mailing lists. Community Partnerships can be created for your specific school.
Bring AIM! to Your School
Nelson Mandela famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” AIM! builds on that truth by providing experience as the most effective teacher.
At least one in five Americans has a disability. So, it’s fair to conclude that everyone will study, work or play with someone who has a physical, intellectual or developmental disability at some point in their lives. Often the first exposure to individuals with disabilities is in a school environment, which is why the AIM! experience is so valuable for students.
By partnering with educators, AIM! seeks to create culture change with the youngest generation of future leaders. Invite us to your school to help spread our message of empowerment!
Are your ready to book AIM! for your school or civic group?
Students who provided peer supports for students with disabilities in general education classrooms demonstrated positive academic outcomes, such as increased academic achievement, assignment completion and classroom participation.