Frequently people want to know how we have educated Rachel’s peers along this journey. I must admit that my experience as a 4-H Youth Development Agent working with schools to do educational programs gave me a leg up on this one. I already had a sense of how to put together something that would help educate not only classmates but teachers and parents. I started doing educational and awareness programs at Rachel’s schools before there were widespread groups in the DS community providing training on how to do this. Here are a few ideas from our world.
I started doing school presentations when Rachel was in Kindergarten. We decided a great way to do this would be to combine some education with recruitment for her walk team. I also recommend having the peer education piece put in your IEP. I used the book “We’ll Paint the Octopus Red” along with a little game about things Rachel had done and they had done and things that were easy or hard for them and Rachel. Rachel was not in the room the first few years we did these. I would also warn to be careful what you choose to use as things that are hard for your child because sometimes kids may use this to tease. This has not happened to us but I have heard of this happening with others. We also talked about how Rachel did not like to be babied and they should treat her like they did everyone else. They loved the book. They loved the walk brochures, and I sent home letters to the parents that told a little about Down syndrome, Rachel and the walk. Several of her classmates participated in the walk. I believe I gave the students stickers. This is pretty much how we did it kindergarten through second grade. In second grade practically the entire class joined her walk team. She glowed. The kindergarten teacher loved the book so much that she used it to teach the letter O. I used that book all the way through 2nd grade and think maybe even 3rd because the kids like it!
In third grade we moved to Kansas. The school was very happy to have me do this presentation there. I gave out Razorback tattoos with all of the brochures that year. The following year (4th grade) we decided it was time for Rachel to help with her presentations and we added a PowerPoint that she could just go through. I also drew for a free registration for one of her classmates.
This is a little outline from her 5th grade (2010) PowerPoint. We did it for all three 5th grade classes. Each slide has the walk title and logo on the top of the page and they are colorful.
Slide 1 – Introduction slide with a fun picture.
Slide 2 – Invitation to walk.
Slide 3 – Info from Rachel about Down syndrome. On this slide I say something like
- Sometimes people treat me differently because I have Down syndrome.I think it is because they are afraid or don’t understand what it is.
- It is simple. I have something called an extra chromosome! You have 46 but I have 47 chromosomes. I have one more than any of you.
- I didn’t do anything to cause or catch my Down syndrome. My parents didn’t either. It’s just the way I am made.
- Some of you are tall and others are shorter. Some of you may have allergies to foods or flowers. That’s the way you were made.
- This is how I was made. And YOU can’t catch Down syndrome from me either!
Slide 4 – Some of you are really good friends to me. Sometimes I need a little extra help and patience. But you know I am really more like you than I am different. For example
- I have been in 9 plays. The last was Peter Pan. I was a Lost Boy.
- I take piano lessons.
- I sing in choir at my church.
- I played soccer this year and I am starting cheerleading.
- I like to go to football games.
- I love to dance.
- Did I mention I love Hannah Montana and the Disney Channel?
Slide 5 –Some of you have done things I haven’t done. I’ve done some things you haven’t done. Two things that you probably haven’t done:
- I have been on television on the NBC Today Show and talked to Al Roker twice! I was seen by millions of people.
- My picture has been on Times Square in New York City 7 times! This picture will be on there September 26. It is of me crossing the finish line with my dad when he finished his ultra marathon (40 miles!).
Slide 6 – This picture on slide.
Slide 7 – Who, what why, where about walk.
Slide 8 – (This is Rachel’s list of what we do at the walk.) What do we do at the walk?
- Dance with Radio Disney
- Inflatables and Games
- Walk one mile
- Maybe meet some Chiefs players!
- Get a cool t-shirt
- Have lots of fun!
Slide 9 – We have lots of fun. I hope you and your family will come and be on my team! This was the picture on the final slide for this presentation.
This is about 15 to 20 minutes and we stop along the way to hand out brochures with a letter attached. The letter tells a little about Down syndrome and the walk and invites people to participate. Each one had a Razorback tattoo (Rachel’s Razorbacks) attached to it. I also take shirts to show the students what they looked like the year before. This can easily be re-worked and not used as a walk recruitment. I would add a short video clip (a couple of minutes) and/or a book if I wasn’t recruiting for the walk. At the end we always asked for questions. We always get good questions and usually some funny ones.
I think an important key is the send home piece. Be it a letter with a brochure recruiting for an event or simply a letter to parents saying this is what your kids leaned to today – it is important. Every year parents call me or catch me at pick up or the store and say, “Thank you for sending that letter home. I learned about Down syndrome. I appreciate your educating us.” Never fails.
I have several presentations I have done through the years connected to an event and others not connected. Now that she is older and we have Just Like You – Down Syndrome, I mostly use that. During her 5th grade year, the teachers invited me back to do a presentation at the end of the year. They thought the students needed some reminders on how we treat people as a send off to middle school. I named that one “How to be a People First Person.” The students responded beautifully to it. It’s probably a little late to do this for this year for a walk but like I mentioned, you can re-work or let me know and I can post a different version not related to an event to show you how you can do a winning presentation that will benefit everyone and not just your child!
Happy Down Syndrome Awareness Month!
NOTE: Peer presentations can be easily adapted for church presentations or almost any other group.