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Veteran To Visit Wayside Elementary

Appearance is part of school’s Special Needs Awareness Week.

Wayside Elementary School students will learn about the challenges of those with disabilities during Special Needs Awareness Week.

Wayside Elementary School students will learn about the challenges of those with disabilities during Special Needs Awareness Week.

— A Potomac native, former U.S. Army officer and decorated Iraq War veteran will return to the area next week to share a message of acceptance with some local students. Luis Montalván, who sustained both physical and emotional wounds while serving in the military, will speak at Wayside Elementary School in Potomac as part of the school’s Special Needs Awareness Week (SNAP).

“We will talk about physical and psychological disabilities and ways in which young people and older people can be supportive of them,” said Montalván, a graduate of Potomac’s Winston Churchill High School who travels with his service dog, Tuesday. “Tuesday and I are going to discuss and show students some of the ways in which assistance dogs help people. Our intention is to leave students and parents informed and inspired.” Montalván wrote “Until Tuesday,” a memoir based on his story of healing with the help of his golden retriever Tuesday.

Parents expressed optimism about his visit and the lessons that he will teach.

“He has turned lemons into lemonade and touched so many people,” said Heather Sachs, one of SNAP’s co-founders. Montalván will also give an evening presentation for parents.

School officials say SNAP is a week-long initiative designed to teach Wayside students and their families about the importance of demonstrating sensitivity to others. 

“One of the things that I feel really strongly about it [is] the inclusion piece, having [special needs] students included in the regular program with their peers. That is a big part of our community,” said Yong-Mi Kim, principal of Wayside Elementary School. “We want all of our children to be aware of the strengths of everyone. Whether you’re a special needs student or a general [education] student, there are strengths that you have and there are also needs.”

In addition to Montalván’s discussion, the week’s schedule includes a disabilities simulation day where students will be able to test equipment designed to aide those with speech, vision, audio and physical impairments.

“We want all of our children to be aware of the strengths of everyone. Whether you’re a special needs student or a general [education] student, there are strengths that you have and there are also needs.” — Yong-Mi Kim

“We will have several rooms set up with actual equipment to teach children without challenges what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes,” said Sachs, whose daughter Leah has Down syndrome and is a first grade student at Wayside. “For example, there will be a growth motor room where there will be wheel chairs, walker, crutches stations.”

Sachs believes the visit from Montalván, the simulation exercises and other awareness activities will promote empathy and understanding of those with disabilities. “Last year, I was at the wheelchair station where we had children wheel up to a table and start writing on a piece of paper with a pencil, and much to their surprise, I took the pencil from them and dropped it on the floor and said, ‘How are you going to get your pencil now? You can’t get out of the chair? It was difficult.”