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Harwood students publish children's books about disability awareness



After learning about the power of personal stories and hearing about individual challenges, Harwood Union students in Steve Rand's creative writing class decided to write children's books to raise awareness about disabilities. This service-learning project resulted in five artistically illustrated children's books.

The books are based on the real-life experiences of students who volunteered to tell their own stories or have their stories told by classmates. The students explored possible formats, researched specific disabilities, used elements of story they had been taught, and began writing. From there, the stories flowed. Tanner, written and illustrated by Bryan Barber, Katie Johnson and Tanner Skilton, tells the story of a boy growing up with dyslexia. 

Gracie, written by Nick Montgomery and Mark Rexford with illustrations by Liza Commo, follows the adventures of a high school student with Down syndrome who has a passion for cross-country running. Swoosh, written by Jessica Jones and Thomas Jacobs-Moore with illustrations by Bethany Preedom, describes one young man's struggles with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. 

Who's the Boy with the Box?, written by Brooke Collins and Caroline Gilbert with illustrations by Ashley Hermanowski, tells the story of a high school student who has autism and loves astronomy. Finally, Theash Shelth, also known as Sea Shells, written and illustrated by Mekah Allen, recalls the childhood experiences of a young girl with a lisp.

With the support of a grant from Teaching Tolerance, the students were able to self-publish a short run of the books, which they shared with Ms. Belknap's class at Waitsfield Elementary School. They plan to give copies of the books to every school in the district.

Inspired by the Harwood student documentary Speak Out for Understanding, the students refer to themselves as the Speak Out for Understanding Storytellers. These storytellers hope their work will raise awareness and provide role models to younger students. The students see these books in a social justice context, providing positive portrayals of individuals with disabilities while promoting equity, awareness and communication.
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