CRANFORD, NJ -  “Diversity” is the enrichment theme for this year’s eighth grade students of Orange Avenue School. In conjunction with the Social Studies curriculum the students will participate in events throughout the year and will culminate in a project that will incorporate their experiences. What began as volunteer work on an Enrichment Committee a few years ago, for two eighth grade teachers, Gigi Shupp and Debbi Shriner, became less of an event and more of a life lesson. The goal is to get the students to investigate a global human rights issue, and research one that is being infringed upon.  

On October 24, 2014, the eighth grade participated in “Diversity Day”, the day was filled with guest speakers, several of whom were parents of current students and a grandparent presenter too. They shared their own personal experiences through small group presentations and discussion.  Some of the topics covered included: Growing Up in Two Cultures, Immigration, Bias Crimes, Hunger in Our Area, Judging Ethnicity as well as touching upon cultures such as; Cuban, German, Irish and life in Costa Rica. There was also a production of “Living Voices”, a one-woman interactive narrative on the travels of a fifteen-year old Irish girl’s journey to America in 1910 through Ellis Island.

Students had the chance to choose several topics from these smaller group sessions, and the day’s events culminated when all of the eighth grade students assembled to hear a 17-year old speak about living with Tourette Syndrome (TS).

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Sarah Ethridge, already a seasoned and well spoken teenager from Chatham High School, has been a Youth Ambassador for the Tourette Syndrome Association since the ninth grade after a trip to Washington D.C. where she met other teenagers looking to help spread awareness about TS.

As Ethridge presented statistics, challenges and realities about living with TS and in her case, OCD as well, her underlying message was one about treating those with TS the same as everyone else. Her mission was to first make the students aware of the facts about TS and most importantly that it was something out of her control, as she explained that “tics” or sudden rapid movements or sounds, cannot be controlled by someone with TS. She even went onto say, when someone says something to her about her tics, she has a ready response, “I am sorry if it bothers you but it bothers me more.”

Ethridge then conducted a simulated motor and mind tic exercise whereby each student had to write a paragraph while she continually interrupted them. This exercise kept the students engaged and ended with many questions about her daily challenges of living with TS.

Ethridge ended with a loud student ovation and this thought, “This is the card I was dealt with and I make the most of my situation.”

At the end of the day, Orange Avenue School principal Michelle Vella stated, “Diversity Day was a success and the eighth grade students were engaged in all breakout sessions. The students asked presenters many questions and have embarked on their long term social studies project.” Mrs. Shupp reiterated that sentiment, “The students were engaged throughout and took so much away from it.”

The program continues in December with a representative from “The Little People of America” due to give a presentation to the students. Early next year a speaker who follows the Sihk religion is due to visit the school.