‘Understanding Differences’ at Del Mar Heights


Del Mar Heights held a month-long program in January titled “Understanding Differences.” This is a unique, award-winning disability awareness program created and developed at Del Mar Heights in 2005. This school-wide program teaches students empathy and understanding through participation in science lessons, simulation exercises, and interactions with guest speakers. Each year, throughout January, the Del Mar Heights community participates in a variety of activities designed to foster tolerance.

Understanding Differences is supported by the staff and PTA, over 75 parent volunteers, UC San Diego undergraduate psychology volunteers, as well as by multiple community volunteers with disabilities. Understanding Differences is innovative because of its three-pronged structure, spiraling curriculum that builds year after year, and integration of lessons on wellness, health, and environmental contributors as a basis for understanding disabilities. Kindergarten and fourth-grade students learn about motor disabilities, first- and third-graders explore vision, second-graders focus on hearing, and fifth-grade students learn about health and fitness. To culminate the program, sixth-graders focus on cognitive function, learning, and communication.

In the initial part of the curriculum, students learn about their grade level topic through scientific inquiry. Next, students are exposed to learning through simulation and experiential inquiry. The final components of the triangulated teaching model offers a venue for students to interact and learn directly from disabled community members.

The Understanding Differences program builds a foundation for understanding based on concrete scientific inquiry. Then, by understanding challenges through “walking in another’s shoes” children develop tolerance, empathy and compassion. This program was honored by the North Coastal Council PTA with a Program Award of Excellence and has been awarded the California School Boards Association Golden Bell Award.

The photos taken on this page were taken Jan. 29 during a Del Mar Heights fourth grade class.

Photos by Jon Clark.