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April 11, 2013

Diversity taught through laughter

Performers provide character education in circus-themed show

It’s not always the biggest guy who is the strongest, the short girl might be a great basketball player, and the kid with the funny clothes and accent might just turn out to be a best friend.

This was the message brought to Cooperstown elementary students during two performances of “Diversity Circus” on Friday. The show was performed at the district to further reinforce its character education program, and more specifically explain in an engaging way what the Dignity for All Students Act truly means, according to Christine McBrearty-Hulse, the elementary counselor.

McBrearty-Hulse said teachers were asked to educate students about the word “diversity” before having students see the traveling performance from Michigan. She said each month students learn about a character trait — the word for March was respect, and the word for April is dignity.

“With the recent ‘Dignity for All’ regulations from New York state, this program addresses the topic head on,” she said. “It is important to educate students early about the meaning of diversity more so than just a person’s size, shape and skin color.”

McBrearty-Hulse said the concept of diversity means to accept and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, exploring those differences in a safe positive and nurturing environment and understanding each other and not treating people unfairly on their differences, she added.

According to the show’s creator, Doug Scheer, learning to accept others is the ultimate form of bully-proofing. Living in the metropolitan Detroit area, home of the largest population of Arab Americans in the U.S., Doug and his wife, Heidi, wanted their sons to learn to be fair to everyone and to treat others the way they wanted to be treated.

“We wanted them to understand that people who are different from them — people who don’t look or act like they do — have the same feelings inside. We wanted them to know that it’s okay to be different and that different isn’t bad. We have more than a passing interest in helping kids understand this — our son Gannon is different. Gannon, 11, has PDD-NOS (one of the five autism spectrum disorders),” wrote Doug and Heidi in the “Autism Spectrum Quarterly” spring 2012 publication.

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