On Wednesday, September 26th, Hebrew Day School joined over 4 million people from around the world to celebrate Character Day, or as we call it at HDS, Mensch Day. It is an opportunity to talk about the character traits we hope to have and develop in ourselves in order to be the best people we can be. We began the celebration by watching parts of a short film called The Making of a Mensch.  The film ends by asking, “What qualities do I want to work on? What kind of person do I want to be?”

This year, our mensch curriculum will focus on the idea of inclusion and respect. Throughout the year, students are going to be participating in a series of lessons and activities meant to teach students about neurodiversity. We will be talking about how people have all kinds of differences, namely social differences, physical differences, and learning differences. The purpose of these activities is to promote students’ understanding of themselves and others, as well as accepting differences in themselves and others. We will be using the following three mantras throughout the year:

  1. Everyone’s brain and body work differently.

  2. Everyone has strengths and challenges, even if you can’t see them.

  3. We are all unique and special and created b’tzelem Elohim (in G-d’s image).

During our Mensch Day assembly, Jen Rosenberg, Beth Pearson, and I presented the concept of a spectrum to students. We used the color spectrum as a visual example, showing students that there is not a stark dividing line between two colors, but a gradual shift of hues and tones that eventually melt into a new color. Following this, students answered questions by placing themselves on a spectrum between extremes. For example, when playing at recess, do you prefer to play alone (left side of the spectrum), with just one friend (center of the spectrum), or with a large group (right of the spectrum)? Students put thought into this, and then moved to the place along the line where they felt they belonged. Some students noted, quite accurately, that there are many factors that contribute to where we fall on the spectrum and we may find ourselves on different parts of the spectrum on different days or in different situations. It was exciting to hear the students discussing the questions, and very interesting to observe how they perceived themselves. They realized that so often it’s not one way or the other, but somewhere on a continuum, on a spectrum. This spectrum gives us a framework to think about strength and challenge, about similarity and difference, and about the many shades of the human experience.

This year, we will be exploring many things about neurodiversity. We will hear from speakers who will present from their own experiences and do activities to help students walk in the shoes of people who learn differently from the way they do. We are grateful to the Jeff Farber Family Foundation and the David and Nanci Farber Family Foundation, whose generosity will make help make these experiences possible. Watch for volunteer opportunities and keep your eyes on our neurodiversity bulletin board, which will be updated throughout the year.

It is our goal that at the end of this year-long focus when answering the questions from the movie, “What qualities do I want to work on? What kind of person do I want to be?” our students will say, “I want to be someone who appreciates, respects, and includes all kinds of people.”

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