By TRAVIS MORSE
BLUFORD — — A select group of Mt. Vernon Township High School students Friday performed a special play for local educators designed to highlight the problem of excluding students with disabilities.
The play, “It's Our School, Too!,” was presented by Project UNIFY members during a teacher in-service at the Bluford Grade School gymnasium.
It featured a collection of short scenes depicting how students with disabilities can be made to feel “left out” or that they are not part of the “fabric of their school,” said Megan Clodi, the Special Olympics athletic director for MVTHS.
“The purpose of this play is to kind of shine a light on those types of situations, especially to educators, and that's our audience today,” Clodi said. “So that way they can try to identify ways in which they can include students with disabilities more within their schools.”
The cast and crew of Friday's performance was made up of 31 MVTHS students, including Special Olympics athletes and their “typically developing” peer partners, and members of the school's Thespian Society.
All are part of Project UNIFY, an extra-curricular program at the high school focusing on peer unity and equality.
“It's Our School, Too!” is based on actual youth interviews from across the U.S. The authors developed the 45-minute play from stories told during the interviews.
“So it came right from youth, youth with disabilities and youth without disabilities, of the things that they were seeing at their schools,” Clodi said.
At one point during Friday's play, the performers on stage led the audience in taking a pledge to not use the “R-word” and to work toward promoting tolerance and unity for students with disabilities.
Lauren Long, a peer partner and MVTHS student, said she enjoyed performing in the play, which had a serious message for the teachers in attendance.
“I think it's very important because it's something that happens everyday, but not a lot of people think about or really pay a lot of attention to,” Long said. “Especially with the teachers, it's good that they could notice it and maybe help put an end to it.”
Peer partner Malorie Garner, also a performer in the play, said many times teachers aren't aware of how much students with disabilities can be affected by feelings of isolation or exclusion.
And the exclusion does not always take the form of something obvious like bullying. It can be a lot more subtle, Garner said.
“It's usually the small things,” Garner said.
After Friday's show, 12 of the Project UNIFY students presented four professional development sessions for the teachers who attended.
The session topics included Unified Sports, SO Get Into It Curriculum, Anti-Bullying/Social Justice, and R-Word Campaigns.