Learning From Children With Disabilities – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Learning From Children With Disabilities

The opportunities for learning that Zachary Bannon ’19 found in his “Children With Disabilities” course have extended far beyond the classroom. As part of the class, the architecture major/studio arts minor has been engaged in service learning at EPIC Zone, a teen drop-in center in Geneva.

“I was hesitant about how much I could help. But the simple act of just being there, playing and talking with the kids, actually makes a difference,” Bannon says.

“An essential component of the course is service learning,” says Associate Professor of Education Mary Kelly, noting the class requires students to perform18-20 hours of volunteer work at schools or community programs. In addition to EPIC Zone, sites range from Happiness House and Head Start to local elementary schools, Hillside Children’s Center and Ontario ARC.

The outside experience that each student undertakes is a powerful opportunity to connect theory with practice, Kelly says, and it significantly enhances the students’ learning outcomes as they reflect on their experiences and observe how they are connected to course content.

“Sometimes I’ll have students collaborate on an in-class activity based on shared experiences with a certain age population, for example, when looking at learning accommodations in schools, while other times I’ll have groups discuss their insights with classmates who have had quite different service-learning experiences so that different perceptions inform their understanding of concepts like accessibility and advocacy,” says Kelly.

Courtney Flynn ’21 and Victoria Kata ’21 volunteered at the Ontario ARC College Experience on the HWS campus. The program allows students with developmental disabilities to become members of the campus community, attending classes, clubs and athletic events. Two College Experience participants are students in Kelly’s “Children With Disabilities” course.

“I’m able to be involved in the lives of students with disabilities, which in the classroom we experience through videos or reading, and then to apply the knowledge/techniques I learn in class to my time spent with the students,” says Flynn.

For Kata, the one-on-one time has offered valuable insights. “This experience meshes with what we study in the classroom. We learn about how each student is different and how you cannot approach each student and situation the exact same way,” she says.

Kira Kent, a community habilitation specialist at Ontario ARC, affirms that HWS students offer real and lasting benefits. “What [the individuals with developmental disabilities] like best is being able to interact with the HWS students and be part of the campus,” she says. “They have learned how to budget their money better, how to search for a job, the proper dress attire for a job interview, and how to cook. They like to make new friends and love being a part of the program.”

Taken together, the experiences can produce change. “My goal for the class is that students have an opportunity to enhance their understanding of the ways that we can create more inclusive schooling practices that truly value all learners,” Kelly says.