Day of Consideration Focuses on Disabilities

Rivers held its annual Day of Consideration on Monday, February 12, and welcomed a number of guests who shared their thoughts and experiences on the subject of disability throughout the day. The program opened with a school-wide address by John Sharon, the Social Studies Department Chair at the Fenn School and the founder of Disabilities Understood, an organization that seeks to empower people of all abilities through education and training. His talk, entitled "Who Gets to Tell Your Story? Disability and Identity in a 'Perfect' World," set the stage for the workshops and activities that rounded out the day.
Organized by the Diversity Office, the Day of Consideration gives the entire community the opportunity to come together to engage in dialogue and learning about a topic relating to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. The day began with a professional development workshop for faculty and staff during which Mr. Sharon outlined guidelines for both personally and professionally exploring and promoting an understanding of physical, sensory, cognitive, and emotional disabilities.
Following Mr. Sharon's talk, Upper School students participated in a variety of workshops and activities led by invited guests and organizations as well as Rivers faculty and staff. Camila Gabriel, a genetic counselor and research fellow in population genetics at Dana Faber Cancer Institute, led a discussion with Dr. Willard entitled “Disability or Difference - Abnormality or Personality? Genetic Discrimination, Technology, and Ethics in the Twenty-First Century.” Jack Brait, a puzzler extraordinaire and Oscars aficionado, shared “My World Through the Lens of Autism” while filmmaker Kathryn Dietz talked about “Stories from the Spectrum,” a series of short films she made about teens and adults on the autism spectrum.
Representatives from several organizations talked about their services, and students were able to learn first-hand from participants about the impact of places like the Michael Lisnow Center or Camp Echo Bridge/Athletes Unlimited. The important role of athletics in bolstering self-esteem and self-confidence was highlighted by Beth Donahue, an ambassador and health messenger for Special Olympics (who led a Zumba class); Mark McKenna, a civil engineer who designed the hockey sled and founded Mountain Warriors Sled Hockey; and Joe Walsh from Adaptive Sports New England, a Paralympic sport club.
Other workshops focused on discussions of topics ranging from depression and anxiety, learning disabilities, accessibility on campus, disability and bias, and personal experiences with disability. The day concluded for Upper School students with a preview of a movie entitled “The Homecoming” and a discussion of the day with their family and advisory groups.
Meanwhile, after the keynote address, Middle School students performed an accessibility audit of the campus, then came together in small groups to brainstorm action items for creating a more inclusive, accessible campus, and to think about how they might be able to do the same in their own communities. They ended their day with an opportunity to meet with Kathryn Dietz, the filmmaker who ran an Upper School workshop, in a Q&A session about her short film “Team of Brothers,” which they watched earlier in the day.
“The day was so much fun for me personally because I got to introduce my two worlds—Rivers and Camp Echo Bridge/Newton Parks and Rec—to each other,” said faculty member Julia Auster. “I was particularly touched when Rivers students invited my guests with disabilities to sit with them at lunch and socialize. It was a blast to see our students so excited about difference. My guests were also so impressed by the school and its staff and students. They had a great time and would love to come back.”
Ben Joiner ’18 echoed Ms. Auster’s feelings, saying “It was a great experience for me not only because my classmates got to learn about disabilities similar to my sister’s, but also it was powerful to see that everyone was engaged and participating the whole time.”
“I think the Day of Consideration also helped alleviate the ‘disabilities taboo’ somewhat, and has made conversation about issues around disability much easier to engage in,” commented George Reinhardt ’20. “One thing that the Day of Consideration did extremely well this year was allow students some choice in what activities they did throughout the day. As someone who cares deeply about movies and media, one of my workshops about short films helped me engage in the discussion about disability in the context of something I care about.”
“I thought that this day was amazing as it allowed for me to delve deeper into a topic that I knew a little bit about, but still wanted to know more about,” concluded Stephanie Dailey ’19. “I loved the engaging workshops, in particular the interview with Mr. Jack Brait. He spoke to us about autism and about his various accomplishments, such as building a 40,320 piece puzzle and being able to name the winner of the Oscars of any year that you asked about. He is one of the funniest and outgoing people that I have ever met! Overall, I loved this day as the community was made aware of a very important topic in many fun and engaging ways!”