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  • Jan
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Milford Catholic invites students to experience disabilities

Posted By January 30, 2014 | 12:57 pm | Lead Story #3
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By Constance Dwyer
CFP Correspondent

MILFORD  – “Be it known to all who enter here that Christ is the reason for this school. He is the unseen but ever present teacher in its classes. He is the model of its faculty and inspiration of its students.” This framed statement hangs not only in Principal Marie Sciretta’s office at Milford Catholic Elementary School but in every teacher’s classroom.
The word “unseen” was the focus for students on Monday during “Disability Awareness Day.” Art teacher Anne Marie Tutela and Nico Flowers, a parent, taught the students what it can be like to be blind. This topic fit in with the “service” part of the Catholic Schools Week theme – Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.
Under the direction of Mrs. Tutela and Mrs. Flowers, the preschool 3- and 4-year-old programs and kindergarten students were invited into the cafeteria for a project. Students were instructed to paint various scenes on paper while wearing their masks. The students learned firsthand what it felt like to do something without sight.
“We want the children to understand what it’s like to have a disability, like blindness, and to go home to talk with their parents and share the experience they had at school about understanding people with disabilities. This is as important a subject as learning reading or math or any discipline,” Mrs. Flowers said.
She also read the students a book, “Someone Special Just Like You” by Tricia Brown, which explains in simple and visual ways how a child with a disability is like them — they smile, they like hugs, they go to school, they like to play and have quiet time, too.
Students in grades 1–6 also were given art work to do while wearing masks. Grades 1–3 were given heart-shaped cut outs with a sticky substance in the middle alongside a paper plate filled with small paper materials to put on the heart. Mrs. Tutela asked the children what “element” they were taught in “feeling with your fingers.” As the children replied, “texture,” she confirmed that texture “is like the soft feeling you have when you pat a kitty.”  She further explained that with your senses you can still be artistic “without seeing.” The lesson was to show  the children that people with disabilities still have the ability to succeed like they want to.
After each experiment, students were asked to remove their masks to see what they created as if they were blind. The children were amazed and struck by how much you can do without being able to see.
Mrs. Flowers, who is a certified severe special education teacher, is working toward a doctorate at UMass-Boston in “Global Inclusion and Social Development.” She asked Miss Sciretta if she could come to the school during Catholic Schools Week to bring awareness to the children about what it’s like to be blind. She also works at the Home for Little Wanderers in Walpole and the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown.
She also helps poor school children in Argentina through the Fatima Institute in Buenos Aires. She recently went to Argentina as a representative of Perkins International to visit the school which is a school for students who are deaf and blind.
“There, I was able to counsel and advise teachers and staff in new or alternative methods for educating their population. I was utterly astounded, seeing what the staff members at Fatima do every day with such minimal resources,” she said. Mrs. Flowers is to return to Buenos Aires in April so the Milford school agreed to do some fund raising for supplies for the Fatima Institute, which relies solely on private donations.
Also as part of the disability awareness, Mrs. Flowers arranged for Perkins’ director of volunteers, Michael Cataruzolo, to go to Milford Catholic on Thursday to engage the children in activities provided by the Perkins School. Mr. Cataruzolo was diagnosed with visual impairment in fourth grade in the Boston Public Schools. She said, “Michael dedicates his time, talents and considerable energy to improve the lives of people who are disabled.” She said she become involved with Perkins  after meeting Mr. Cataruzolo.
One of the parents helping was Connie Cerda who, according to Yara Hentz, marketing director at Milford Catholic, “is inspirational in her commitment to Milford Catholic Elementary School and Little Angels Preschool.” Mrs. Cerda not only is a regular volunteer at the school where she has a kindergartner and fourth-grader, but she volunteers without being asked.
Miss Sciretta summed up the purpose of having the “Disability Awareness Day.”
“During Catholic Schools Week, it is our goal to make our students aware of others with disabilities. Each one of us is special as a child of God. We all have our own challenges and we should accept each other with love.”
The school also agreed to do some fundraising for the Fatima Institute.