Schoolchildren coming together to help improve the lives of their peers is very encouraging, in itself, but children coming together to help improve the lives of community members, as well, is just plain terrific.
That’s my assessment of the Autism Awareness Potluck Dinner planned for 5-7 p.m. Thursday, March 10, at the William S. Cohen School in Bangor.
The event is hosted by the after-school service learning group, Voices of Change, together with the Cohen School Student Council and the school’s Boosters Club.
While a donation of $5 per family is requested, it is not required, and all proceeds will be donated to the Autism Society of Maine.
Reservations are not required, but would be helpful for planning purposes, I was told by seventh-grade language arts teacher Trisha Smith, who is the Voices of Change adviser.
You may call 941-6230 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to make reservations and indicate what you can contribute to the meal.
The evening will feature a brief keynote presentation by members of Voices of Change, and Dr. Tim Rogers, whom Trisha describes as an autism expert working in the Bangor school system, will be the featured speaker.
The event also includes musical entertainment by students of both Cohen and Doughty middle schools.
Cohen student Ray Costlow, who is a bass guitarist, will be accompanied by her father, Fred Costlow, and Doughty student Max Silverstein and his father, Jeff Silverstein, will entertain you on their fiddles.
In true potluck fashion, Trisha said, “it is scary” planning such an event, adding “it’s quite an adventure.”
Everyone involved is dividing up the workload, with the boosters putting together a crockpot menu and arranging for utensils, and the Student Council seeking out business owners to make donations such as rolls.
But the most significant aspect of this event is raising awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Voices of Change, comprising members of the seventh and eighth grade, has a threefold purpose, and this presentation meets them all.
That purpose is to offer youngsters experiences in “academic integrity, where the kids learn something,” Trisha explained; having “student ownership” of a project; and experiencing “apprentice citizenship,” in which the group works with a community partner; in this case, the boosters.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, she said. “Everyone is super-excited to hear we are doing this.”
The idea came from a brainstorming session that also produced a school survey about autism and bullying.
“Some in the group are on the autism spectrum and some have siblings” with the disorder, Trisha said, “so that was the subject they chose.”
She added that these youngsters understand someone (who is perceived as) different is often the target of bullying.
The Voices of Change PowerPoint presentation “will include some facts and statistics they found through research, and some graphs they’ve made from their survey results. They want to share that data with the local community.”
Trisha also said that, under consideration for the program, is the possibility of having a couple of students “who feel like victims, or who have autism, speak for themselves; speak for their own Voices of Change” and hope if people hear their personal stories, it will make a difference and lead to increased awareness about the disorder and those who have it.
According to the Autism Society Web site, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its autism prevalence report in December 2009, it concluded the prevalence of autism had risen to one in every 110 U.S. births and to almost one in 70 among boys.
More information about autism is available at http://www.autism-society.org/.