Ridgefield students learn about empathy, diversity

Barlow Mountain Elementary School in Ridgefield, Conn.

Barlow Mountain Elementary School in Ridgefield, Conn.

Macklin Reid / Hearst Connecticut Media

RIDGEFIELD — Last month, Barlow Mountain Elementary School participated in Awareness Week, which was held in collaboration with the Parent Teacher Association. Students and staff engaged in activities that focused on diversity, culture, tolerance, differences, empathy and compassion.

During Awareness Week, BMES worked towards supporting the school’s shared goal of social-emotional growth and education. Elementary Supervisor Sarah Weirsman worked with teachers and staff to plan activities for students in Pre-K through fifth grade.

“[They] had opportunities to understand and appreciate diversity and tolerance through the use of literature, virtual performances with members of the Prospector Theater, special morning announcements, a community art project and crafted videos created by members of the staff,” Weirsman said.

Barlow Mountain’s librarians provided resources to teachers so they could develop mindfulness activities to do with their students. Each member of the school community also contributed to a schoolwide art project: a colorful handprint mural.

Fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Hilderbrand wrote the morning announcements, which highlighted celebrities with disabilities and their many successes. School psychologist Kiera Russo, who is also a member of Barlow Mountain’s Social Emotional Learning Team, created a video focused on the premise of CLUE, or, “Children Learning to Understand Everyone.”

“Its purpose was to demystify some of the special services that are available at school, to teach about learning differences, and to help children understand that fair doesn’t always mean equal but rather every child getting what he or she needs to be successful,” Russo explained.

The video took students on a virtual tour of the school’s resource rooms, such as the school psychologist’s office. It also celebrated how each student is unique and encouraged them to think about the differences and similarities they may have with their peers. The video also asked students to think of ways they could be everyday heroes in their community, such as showing compassion or volunteering to help others.

“The CLUE presentation did a great job in helping children recognize some of the differences of their peers, and also the connections that make us the same,” Russo added. “It also did a great job of broadening the visibility of support staff at school. I think Awareness Week helped to bring our community closer together and grow a positive school culture of empathy and understanding.”

Weirsman thanked Principal Rebecca Laus, the PTA, the Ridgefield Public Library, the Prospector Theater and students and staff for showing enthusiasm and support the entire week.