Fairfield University coordinates annual diversity program at a Shelton school



Image: Paula Gill LopezWhat's it like to use a wheelchair? How does it feel to have visual differences? How do shy children navigate social situations?

Children at Shelton's Mohegan Elementary School are about to find out. A Fairfield University professor and student volunteers from the University's Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions will coordinate the 7th annual Diversity Day at the school on Friday, Dec. 2, giving children a chance to experience what it means to be "different."

The program, organized by Paula Gill Lopez, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the School's School Psychology Program, begins with diversity lessons prior to Diversity Day. Dr. Gill Lopez and some of her graduate students teach diversity lessons in a weeklong effort for all 20 classes from kindergarten through fourth grade. The lessons promote acceptance of self and others and always include a school-wide art project that is prominently displayed in the hall near the main office. "This year's lesson was on the diversity - and similarities - of our brains and how neuroscientists have recently found that we can change our brains to change our behavior allowing us to be more successful in life," said Dr. Gill Lopez.

Diversity Day centers on fourth-grade students. The children rotate through eight learning stations run by the Fairfield students and parent volunteers to better understand what it's like to have differences, such as in hearing, sight, and social differences. The students learn experientially by engaging in activities that allow them to "step into the shoes" of others who are different in some way. For instance, at the Sensory Integration Station, students try to complete an academic task while having the back of their neck tickled with a feather. The students receive a "take-away" at each station to help them remember what they learned.

While many schools teach children about diversity, tolerance and acceptance, the simulation activities help crystallize their understanding of the real issues faced by those with physical or emotional challenges.

In addition to teaching the children valuable lessons, the program gives School Psychology candidates a hands-on experience prior to their required practicum/internship and a chance for meaningful community outreach.

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Media Contact: Meredith Guinness, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2950, mguinness@fairfield.edu

Posted on November 8, 2011

Vol. 44, No. 114