Students Use Puppets to Help Peers Understand Disabilities
The Carlos Rey fifth graders have performed for 1,300 students this school year; now they'll be featured at a regional conference.
Meet Reynaldo, Melody and Jennifer.They are large puppets used to help young children understand what it's like to have a disability.
Now meet Jesus, Analicia and Jayraina. They are fifth-grade puppeteers at Carlos Rey Elementary School who, along with stage manager Juliana, take their show on the road to help kids like themselves understand what it's like to be blind or have a learning disability or cerebral palsy.
The puppets come from The Kids on the Block, Inc., an international program that originated in 1977 to fill the need of children with disabilities to have their non-disabled peers understand and accept them.
Teacher Midge Nicholson volunteered as a Kids on the Block puppeteer 15 years ago through Easter Seals. When the organization decided not to sponsor the program anymore, they donated the puppets to Nicholson, who has since been training students in her gifted classes to put on the shows, which include several 10-minutes skits followed by question and answer periods in character.
The students not only learn to operate the puppets, which perform in the style of Bunraku (Japanese puppet theater), but they also become experts on the disabilities they represent so they can answers the questions.
The program doesn't usually allow students to take on these roles because of the sensitivity of the topics they are discussing. But Nicholson said her students are well prepared, and answer questions with dignity, grace and humor.
For example, when Jesus' puppet, who is blind, is asked why he cares what he looks like, Jesus responds in character: "I like the ladies."
"I'm not sure they realize what their impact is, but I do. I see it," said their teacher.
The students have performed for dozens of classes at nearby schools. And on Thursday, April 21, they will perform at a regional conference in Albuquerque for Parents Reaching Out, a parent advocacy group.
Watch part of one of the skits performed by the Carlos Rey fifth graders.