After reading about the unfair and cruel treatment of the protagonist Charlie Gordon by peers in the class science fiction short story Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes, BHMS students Madeline Ryan and Amelia Kouyoumjian reached out to their 8th grade English Language Arts teacher, Alan Neuwirth, and the school counselor, Anthony Flevaris, expressing their concerns. What resulted was an incredible dialogue where BHMS Middle Years Programme coordinator Kathy Janelle volunteered to work with Neuwirth and the two students to find a way to increase disability awareness and encourage inclusive practices for all students at BHMS throughout the month of May.
To do this, Ryan and Kouyoumjian researched people with disabilities who made a significant contribution to history, and spoke about them during daily announcements, while Janelle developed a school slideshow that played in the student lounge each day in school. You can view this educational slideshow here.
Meanwhile, Neuwirth connected with Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein for an interview about the challenges he faced in school, and the importance of being kind to others. Justice Bernstein is an alumnus of Bloomfield Hills Schools. This video was shared with all BHMS 8th grade students, and made a powerful and positive impact. Students shared a wide variety of takeaways from the video viewing. Parus Dhillon notes, “My main takeaway after watching the interview with Mr. Bernstein was to find your passion and follow through with it. It was inspiring listening to how he took his passion: helping disabled people, and how he helped his passion guide him through all the hardships in his life. He overcame bullies from high school, having to get into college, and when he became a lawyer having to memorize 25 cases a week, putting in many more hours than his non-disabled colleagues.” Jenna Roumayah shares, “My main takeaway after watching the interview was that Mr. Bernstein talked about including people. I think it's really important to include people. He said how you didn't need to be best friends with them, but it's always a good idea to be a nice person. He also discussed how people remember the nice people in high school and you should want to be known as a nice person too.”
Jack Collins reflects, “My main takeaway from Mr. Bernstein is the fact that helping others, and being a kind person can impact many lives, especially in youthful times. Being popular, and being widely praised is not the most important thing, especially in middle and high school. Even if people are different, guiding them and being there for them can change their whole life. Mr. Bernstein also does a great job of showing and explaining that just because he is blind, he is not limited on the things that he has accomplished. He is a lawyer, had the possibility to become a Supreme Court Justice, as well as ran 24 marathons and an Iron Man. Even though he has challenges, he helps to enhance people's lives for the better and works hard to achieve what he aspires to attain in his lifetime.” And Grace Dehko notes, “honestly it inspired me to make one friend next year that is struggling.”
Thank you to the BHMS educators, administrators and students who facilitated the slideshow and video creation, in order to share powerful messages of inclusion, empathy, and understanding.