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Harwood Union High School's Speak Out for Understanding group has been selected by the National Youth Leadership Council and the State Farm Companies Foundation to receive the 2009 State Farm Youth Leadership for Service-Learning Award.
This year's award was presented to project advisor Maureen Charron-Shea and youth participants Emma Wade, Tanner Skilton, Tucker Sargent, Grace Kirpan and Trevor Cook on March 20 at the 20th annual National Service-Learning Conference in Nashville, TN. The group received $1,000 to support its future work.
The award recognizes kindergarten through 12th-grade service-learning programs and projects that demonstrate outstanding youth leadership. Projects that demonstrate a high level of youth initiative in all areas of planning, including identifying community needs, planning the service, and putting that plan into action, are eligible.
Speak Out for Understanding involves a group of high school students with varying abilities in learning to speak out for themselves and others. After exploring some of the challenges facing students with disabilities, the students discovered that a lack of understanding is critical.
The students created a documentary film to raise awareness by telling their own stories about the challenges they face as students who have been identified with attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, Down syndrome and other disabilities. The film illuminates issues such as discrimination, stereotyping, learning difficulties and social isolation as students suggest actions to overcome these challenges. The goals of the project parallel students' curricular and individual education goals of communication, self-advocacy and self-determination.
The students have presented their film widely, engaging audiences at local and regional conferences, colleges, schools, service clubs, and on Vermont Public Television in discussions about these issues.
Recently, the students also were honored at the Vermont State House with the Deborah Lisi-Baker Leader of Tomorrow Award "in recognition of successful leadership and advocacy skills promoting the civil rights of people with disabilities." The program has received support from the KIDS Consortium, Teaching Tolerance, Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council, the Vermont FolkLife Center and Vanguard Productions.
State Farm and the National Youth Leadership Council support service-learning programs that provide opportunities for students to have a direct impact on their communities by applying their academic skills to real-world issues.