April 27, 2001

San Diego Students Continue to Open Doors for Disabled

By Yvette tenBerge

The Disabilities Awareness Network (DAWN) hosted an awards luncheon at the Marriot Hotel & Marina on Tuesday, where more than 35 excited, San Diego area students were recognized for their contributions to the organization's sixth annual essay and poster contest.

(Left) Danielle Salim of Mesa Verde Middle School, reads her first place essay. (Above) Kiara Pippins, of Baker Montessori Middle School, and her guest look at her plaque after she read her essay aloud.

Camera-toting parents and proud teachers offered their support as Channel 10's Hal Clement, the Honorary Chair of the event, called out the names of each runner up and presented them with certificates and a handshake. Nine of the contest's winners received $100 savings bonds, plaques and certificates, while the Grand Prize winner, Sable Marlette of Mesa Verde Middle School, was awarded a $500 savings bond along with a plaque, a certificate and a framed copy of her essay. Each of these students stayed at the podium to read their work aloud and posed for a picture with Mr. Clement before heading back to their seats.

Angela Gray, a San Diego High School senior who won third place in the High School Division, responded to the essay topic, "Why students with disabilities should be in my class," by sharing her own experiences growing up as a student with a learning disability. "By the time I was in seventh grade, I was ready to drop out of school and end it all just because of what the kids said and did to me. My reason for wanting people with disabilities to be in my classroom is that we deserve to be in a class learning the same things as everyone else," said Ms. Gray, who revealed that she was known for a long time as the `girl who could not read.' People tend to be afraid of what they don't know and understand, so this causes them to make fun of someone who is different from them."

Ms. Gray was one of over 200 students from 11 schools who participated in this year's event, the aim of which is to increase young San Diegan's awareness of the barriers and prejudices that individuals with disabilities encounter in their daily lives. DAWN, a collaborative of 20 non-profit organizations serving adults with physical and mental disabilities, was formed in 1988 after it became evident that the community knew very little about the needs of people with disabilities.

In an attempt to reverse this trend, DAWN decided to sponsor a series of interactive, educational programs geared toward helping students understand the ways in which people with disabilities "add to the richness of our world." Students were given a window into a day in the life of a disabled person by participating in simulation exercises such as propelling a wheelchair, writing in Braille and talking with the help of a Communications Board. From the looks of the essays written, though, it was the in-class presentations by disabled guest speakers that did the most to replace inaccurate stereotypes with images of strength and competence.

These guest speakers, like Cruz Carrasco, who became disabled after a drive-by shooting, and John Gordy, who became disabled after his mother took thalidomide (a drug now known to cause severe birth defects) at the suggestion of her doctor, sat at a table situated at the base of the podium. They were joined by Alex Montoya, a disabled employee for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who served as the Keynote Speaker of the event. Mr. Montoya, a triple amputee from birth, described the rare chance he was given to attend a regular San Diego public school 20 years ago as part of a pilot program. Not only did he excel in his studies, he continued on to attend and graduate from the University of Notre Dame in Illinois.

"You guys are the ones who helped fight to give [disabled people] social equality and equal access to schools," said Mr. Montoya, looking out into the sea of faces in the audience. Noting that friends, members of his family and even past teachers were present, he thanked them before passing the torch to the students who participated in this year's event. "The key to solving this problem is dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. I am proud of all of the kids here today because I know that they are going to provide a brighter future for everyone else."

To find out more about DAWN contact Sue Racanelli at 619-233-5183.


We're All The Same

One day when I was at the mall, I saw a person in a wheelchair.

This person was not just anybody; it was a child. I asked my mom why the child was in a wheelchair and she said he probably was disabled. Then I started to wonder what it must be like to be disabled and have people stare at you. I felt bad for the boy knowing that he would probably never walk.

I tried to picture myself in his place and imagine what he was going through. After opening my mind, I realized that he was no different than any one of us. So, why should a child with disabilities need to learn something different from the rest of us just because they look different? Children with disabilities need the same knowledge and skills that other children need in order to be successful in life.

When children share classrooms, whether or not they have special needs, they experience opportunities to learn from each other in many different ways such as, learning sign language from a deaf person. Or, a disabled child could learn to play an instrument and be part of the school band. Another reason we should share classrooms is so that we all learn from each other about the differences between people and how to accept people for their differences instead of excluding them.


Mesa Verde Middle School

Grand Prize


Sixth Annual Poster & Essay Contest

"Kids with disabilities should be in my class"


Sable Marlette, Mesa Verde Middle School

Winners: Elementary School

First Place: Giblian Lopez, Baker Montessori

Second Place: Alex Griffith, Marvin

Third Place: Mattie Fowler, Mt. Vernon

Winners: Middle School

First Place: Danielle Salim, Mesa Verde

Second Place: Toriano Thomas, O'Farrell

Third Place: Kiara Pippins, Baker Montessori

Winners: High School

First Place: Carmen Silva, San Diego

Second Place, Gabrielle Jones, San Diego High

Third Place: Angela Gray, San Diego High

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