When one of her student’s approached her with a bright look in his eyes, Middle School Inclusion Teacher, Kayla Baker, knew a special connection had been made. “He’s just like me!” Kayla’s student told her. Kayla’s class had just finished listening to Joseph Maley Foundation speaker, Gabriel Lehman’s, presentation. Gabriel, an accomplished artist who has dyslexia, has volunteered for this portion of our programming for years. (Hear more about Gabriel’s story in Episode 16 of Chrysalis) “It was a really special moment for me,” Kayla said of that conversation with her fourth grade student, a smile on her face as she relays the story. “for him to see himself in a positive light.” Later, when her student went on to share with his classmates about his experiences with dyslexia, the impact of the programming was more than clear. “I don’t think he would have done that if he hadn’t seen Gabriel’s presentation.”

Disability Awareness programming, designed for grades pre-k through twelve, teaches youth to celebrate differences, and foster inclusivity in their community. Kayla, a teacher at Butler Lab 55, has been an advocate for implementing Disability Awareness at her school, pushing for its inclusion in the curriculum after she’d worked with the Foundation at her previous school. “My principal and I brought the program to Butler Lab 55 for the first time this year…I saw a big need for Disability Awareness.” That need is multi-faceted, Kayla says. She shares that she’s had students with a disability tell her that they’re “ashamed”, and loves that the program has the capacity to make those students feel less alone, and more confident in who they are. On the flip-side, she hopes that the programming will encourage all students to be more thoughtful with their words, and ultimately kinder to one another.

The program’s curriculum is designed to meet youth of all ages where they are. Grade level themes are used, so as students progress through their time at the school, they’re learning something new each year with the program. One of the most unique and impactful pieces of this programming is our Puppets program, offered in conjunction with all of our curriculum-based programs, which offers diversity-focused puppet shows for grades pre-k through fourth. Puppeteers are seventh and eighth grade students from Greater Indianapolis schools, embodying our belief in the power of youth teaching youth. Kayla sees the impact of this program at each performance: “You really don’t have an idea how thoughtful [students] can be with these topics, until you hear them ask the puppets their questions. We had kids referencing the puppet show for months.”

As an educator herself, Kayla knows how many responsibilities teachers have to juggle. Even so, she feels that Joseph Maley Foundation’s Disability Awareness programming is sought after by teachers. She says that educators value the program because they feel there is a gap in their curricula, and that their students need the kind of support and education provided by the program.

Kayla feels that implementing Disability Awareness at her school is well worth the time:  “[Disability Awareness] is the perfect fit for the things we are needing in the classroom. Things that we as special education teachers are constantly trying to put out into the world — these messages of acceptance that we’re always wanting to say, but don’t always have the time, ability, or platform to put together. This program just fits really well.”

Joseph Maley Foundation is able to provide vital programming like Disability Awareness to the Greater Indianapolis area because of the generosity of our donors. Great things happen when we work together. This holiday season, please consider making a donation to Joseph Maley Foundation. Your gift empowers youth to live our mission and be inclusive leaders in our community.