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Students explore accessibility, spend three days in wheelchairs

If walking a mile in somone’s shoes builds compassion, imagine what an eye-opener it is to spend three days in a wheelchair. That’s exactly what four ingenious Grade 5 students did for the final unit of the Primary Years Programme, the results of which will be on display at the PYP Exhibition on May 9. Additonally, the boys plan to present their findings to UCC facilities director Steve Thuringer, in an effort to increase accessibility school-wide.

“My bum’s sore; I can’t imagine if I had to sit there every day,” says Matthew Grudzinski. Along with fellow voyageurs  Adam Manji, Dylan Meretsky and Owen Anderson, the boys explored what’s known in PYP parlance as the “central idea,” then devised an appropriate “action” to explore it.

In this case, the central idea was “discrimination is a barrier for people with differences who want to enable themselves to achieve their goals.” All boys formulated their particular central idea with the assistance of a mentor. Here, it was drama and math teacher Bob Cooper. Action options included an awareness campaign, stakeholder lobbying or a lifestyle change, which this enterprise surely was.

To explore barriers at the Prep, the boys researched suppliers, then rented wheelchairs and wheeled around carrying maps and circling problem areas in the school. They only left the chairs to use the washroom. They determined, for example, that most sinks were too high, lockers had benches in front which prevented wheelchair access and there was only one accessible washroom in the Prep.

“It’s a real example of building IB learner traits such as empathy and perseverance,” says Grade 5 teacher Mark Ferley. Indeed, the boys also learned a great deal about perspective.

“It really slows you down,” says Meretsky. The boys all commented on how the hill to the Upper School was nothing to walk up, but in a wheelchair it was a different story.

The impact of the boys’ enterprise was not lost on their peers or fellow teachers. Says Ferley: It takes the innocent eyes of a 10-year-old to see the challenges facing people. As adults we’ve lived so long looking one way it’s harder to shift our perspective.

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