How will A Touch of Understanding benefit my students?

It might be misunderstood that A Touch of Understanding benefits only students with disabilities. Although students with disabilities do benefit, A Touch of Understanding is beneficial to all students.

Benefits for students with disabilities:

  • For students with disabilities it is helpful to have their peers begin to understand that a disability is only one of many characteristics of a person. It is not the defining characteristic. As we hear so often from general education students, “The most important thing I learned from A Touch of Understanding is that although someone with a disability might look different on the outside, we are all the same on the inside.”
  • Students with disabilities also benefit from A Touch of Understanding by having their peers educated about the challenges brought on by many disabilities and the tools used to meet those challenges, such as wheelchairs, braces, artificial limbs, canes, Braille, etc. This not only reduces the fear of the assistive devices, it also helps students to understand the accommodations necessary to include a friend with disabilities in an activity.
  • Students with disabilities benefit from meeting other individuals who have disabilities and who serve as positive role models. One fourth-grade boy told his mother that his heart felt so much better about having muscular dystrophy after meeting our volunteers who had disabilities.
  • Students with disabilities are always encouraged to share about their experiences, be it in the question and answer period or as an actual speaker joining our team of volunteer speakers. This provides an opportunity for a child with a disability to be seen as an expert by their peers. This has been a valuable aspect of our program. Parents, teachers, and administrators have encouraged these students to join our team and travel with us to other schools. Thus we created the ATOU Youth F.O.R.C.E. “Friends Offering Respect ~ Creating Empowerment.” Hope, who has cerebral palsy and is a member of our Youth F.O.R.C.E., said, “After A Touch of Understanding, I no longer feel invisible at school. Kids call me by name and come up and give me high fives. Even the older kids.”

 

Benefits for general education students:

  • A Touch of Understanding is an empowering experience for students. Our volunteer speakers who share about their disabilities are positive role models sharing their enthusiasm for life, their determination to set and achieve their goals and their humor and their honesty. One sixth-grade boy wrote, “After A Touch of Understanding, I feel like I could do anything.”
  • A Touch of Understanding is often the first time students are introduced to the concept of “Walking a Mile” in someone else’s shoes. This character-building training provides the foundation for developing the skill of empathy towards others who seem different for any reason, be it age, ability, appearance, gender, etc. as stated by one student who said, “The most important thing I learned from A Touch of Understanding is not to be prejudiced, not just to disabled people but to anybody.”
  • Many general education students have siblings or other family members with disabilities, which may be a source of embarrassment for them. A Touch of Understanding helps them to see that their loved one is not the only one with challenges. We are careful to address their comments to be sure that they are given the opportunity to be proud of the knowledge and experience they have regarding disabilities.
  • We’ve been told that A Touch of Understanding is more than an experience students remember. It is something they CARRY WITH THEM. It becomes part of who they are. One 23 year-old woman told us, “I went through A Touch of Understanding when I was in second grade and it changed my life.”

 

How will A Touch of Understanding benefit me as a teacher?

We have heard many varied responses to this question when we posed it to teachers over the years.

  • Many teachers feel that A Touch of Understanding sets a bar for behavior in their classrooms and plays an important role in the healthy, respectful atmosphere on their campus.
  • Teachers feel that A Touch of Understanding serves as an antidote to disrespectful behavior, which is essential as with bullying becoming an ever-increasing issue.
  • Some teachers have said that our program gives them tools to use as they talk with their students about acceptance and respect of others, not only regarding disabilities, but also regarding anyone who seems “different” for any reason. They have brought it up in class meetings and during disciplinary actions.
  • Some teachers have said that they were able to quietly remind students of A Touch of Understanding when they saw their behavior becoming inappropriate toward a student. The students quickly changed their actions.
  • Other teachers have said that their personal participation in the program over the years has helped them to feel comfortable having a student with disabilities in their classroom and helped them make their other students feel comfortable as well.
  • One teacher said that our program helped her student who had a disability be readily accepted by the others upon his return to the classroom, after a long absence brought on by the disability.

 

How do I get A Touch of Understanding for my students?

Please call our office at (916) 791-4146 to discuss scheduling options and the cost of the program for your students. You may also email your inquiry to programcoordinator@touchofunderstanding.org

 

Is this like most assemblies where the entire student body participates?

No. It is really better to consider our program as a workshop rather than an assembly. Since this is a hands-on opportunity for the students, it is very time consuming. Therefore, depending on the size of the student body, most schools choose a grade level to participate each year. Many schools chose a grade level between third and sixth, though it has proven to be beneficial to any age. For example, if you choose fourth grade to participate. Our ATOU Team will return each year for the fourth graders of that year to experience the program. That way, it becomes part of the curriculum for that grade, and every student goes through the program as a fourth grader. If your school is small, it is possible to do multiple grades and return perhaps every other year.

 

In the past, some schools have felt that if the whole student body was not able to participate, they did not want the program. Once they saw the hands-on experience, and realized that having our staff, volunteers and equipment on their campus each year reinforced the message of acceptance and respect for all individuals each year, they began to see the arrangement as beneficial.

 

In some cases, when there has been a bullying issue, some schools have asked us to present to their entire student body one year and then return for the chosen grade level each year. This has been very beneficial in correcting the bullying situation. We are happy to discuss this possibility if you have a concern for your school campus.

 

How long does a presentation take?

The ATOU school program has two portions, the activity portion and the speaker portion, each approximately an hour and a half long. This means that each student is active with our program for about 3 hours. If space allows, both portions can be going on simultaneously, meaning approximately 80 students can complete the program in 3 hours. If the group is considerably larger than 80 students, a rotation of three groups can be arranged. For example:

Time Frame                            Activities                    Speakers                     Uninvolved

8:15-9:40                                Group A                      Group B                      Group C

9:45-11:10                              Group B                      Group C                      Group A

11:15- 12:40                           Group C                      Group A                      Group B

 

If necessary, a lunch break can be scheduled.

 

If the group is larger than 120 students, it is often necessary to schedule more than one day of presentations.

 

What space/equipment is needed for the program?

For the speaker portion is usually presented in a classroom. A TV/DVD player or equivalent is needed. There is no special seating arrangement.

 

For the activity station, usually a multipurpose or other large room is used. This area requires space for the use of wheelchairs, white canes, a Braille writing station, a Learning Disability Station and an Orthotic and Prosthetic Device Station. For these activity stations, three double cafeteria-style tables or equivalent are needed along with a TV/DVD player.

 

If a cafeteria is used and will also be used for lunches, the entire room can be set up for lunches prior to our presentation and we will work around the tables. We want to make it   most convenient for the custodian.

 

A pre-presentation letter with this information will be emailed to the contact person at the school. This can be forwarded to all teachers and support staff who will benefit from knowing the day’s plans.

How much does a presentation cost?

Since each school has a different situation for scheduling and number of students participating, it is necessary for us to talk with someone from your school regarding your particular school. However, in general, schools pay a portion of the true cost of each presentation. Despite the fact that each presentation to approximately 40 students costs A Touch of Understanding approximately $1,500, schools pay $600 for 40 students to participate, which is $14 per student. This can be compared to a field trip without the transportation costs.

 

When will I receive an invoice?

An invoice will be mailed along with a hard copy of the pre-presentation letter approximately one month before the presentation date.

 

When is payment due?

Payment can be sent via mail either before or shortly after the presentation or hand-delivered on the presentation day.

 

Do you provide any follow-up, enrichment material?

Yes! You will be given a packet of material for each student including: an Adventure Activity Book, bookmarks, a Braille alphabet card, an Autism information card and a wearable button. Also included will be a survey to be completed at home by each student and one parent/guardian.

 

What role does the teacher play before, during and after the presentation?

Before the presentation, a teacher, administrator or support staff member will be the one contact for scheduling times and locations.

 

During the presentations, all teachers are encouraged to participate in the activities and to interact with the speakers. Your participation, as the teacher, shows the students that you feel this experience is important and encourages students to take the experience seriously. It also allows you to extend the experience through conversations throughout the year.

 

Approximately two weeks after the presentation, you will receive a teacher survey requesting your responses and any additional comments you have about the program. Your feedback is valuable as we strive to keep the program dynamic and beneficial to you as a teacher and to your students. It is also essential as we continue to seek sponsorship to sustain the program.

 

We are currently participating in an additional evaluation project including one pre-test and two post-tests. One post-test is administered within two weeks of the presentation and the other approximately four to six months afterward. These are designed to show the short and long term effect of the program on students’ attitudes, beliefs and behavior. Please let us know if you would like to participate in this evaluation process.

 

How can I extend/maximize the ATOU experience for my students?

  • The follow-up materials are very valuable in helping students apply the program experience to their everyday lives. In the Adventure Book, there are activities to be completed on each page. There are also Bonus Activities listed on each page to help the students take their new knowledge and understanding and extend it into their personal lives. These pages can be used in class or given as homework or extra credit.
  • Referring to the ATOU experience in class discussions also reinforces the message of acceptance and respect. Many teachers and administrators have referred to the experience when disciplining students for disrespectful behavior.
  • Writing assignments are valuable in helping students extend the ATOU experience. We would LOVE to hear your students’ thoughts and new perspectives after A Touch of Understanding.
  • Some schools are having their students to write stories and making them into short plays, which are being filmed and shown to students in other grade levels.