Understanding Differences at Del Mar Heights

Del Mar Heights fifth graders complete an exercise to learn about empathetic and authentic communication.
(Karen Billing)

Del Mar Heights School’s home-grown disability awareness program Understanding Differences is celebrating its 14th year at the school. The program, supported by the PTA, teaches empathy and understanding through participation in science lessons, simulation exercises and interactions with guest speakers.

The program used to be run by parent volunteers but is now led by community partners and coordinated by Alexa McGuire.

Understanding Differences spans across all grade levels with a different theme for each grade.In kindergarten, students are given an introduction to the ideas of kindness and inclusion and how people are different, but the same.

First graders learn about people with special needs and programs at school they can join over the next six years to give back to their community. Second graders learn about vision with The Braille Institute and third graders learn about motor differences with Challenged Athletes Foundation, Limbs with Love and new partner Born2Walk. Born2Walk is an organization founded by Francis Parker School junior Rakesh Reddy that provides 3D printed prosthetics for people who can’t afford them.

Club Xcite Program Director Jocelyn Burke shares with the students. Karen Billing

Fourth graders learn about hearing with Deaf Community Services and UCSD/SDSU School of Audiology, while fifth graders take a look at emotional intelligence and health, advocacy for self and others. Sixth graders study cognitive differences, the teen brain and brain health.

On April 30, groups of fifth graders met with new Understanding Differences partner Club Xcite.

Club Xcite provides tutoring, coaching, therapeutic enrichment services for students and their families. They specialize in supporting students with mild to moderate social, emotional or behavioral challenges that impact their success at school, at home or in other social environments.

Club Xcite’s Joceyln Burke and Mitra Pashayi supported Del Mar Heights fifth graders in understanding how to build authentic and compassionate relationships through mindfully applying knowledge of the brain and emotions.

Students learned about body language, tone and added to their “emotional toolbelts” in order to be more mindful and empathetic communicators. Students were taught to really THINK about how they communicate with others:

T is it true?

H is it helpful?

I is it inspiring?

N is it necessary?

K is it kind?

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