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Mamaroneck Students Teach About Differences

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Ben Finard and a group of Mamaroneck High School students shared their experiences living with a learning disability Thursday to build awareness among students at Central School. The panel was part of the week-long Building Bridges program at Central and Murray Avenue schools. The program teaches students about different disabilities, then gives them a real-life example of someone who has overcome obstacles in life. "Understanding the differences that exist between people is essential," said Central School Principal Carol Priore, who helped found the program at Central School four years ago. "The way that you build that is developing a deep understanding of what it's like to stand in someone else's shoes." Finard, a senior, was diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities in kindergarten. In addition to struggling with concentration, he said he always had extra energy and, at first, didn't know how to channel it. He would fight with his older brother after school, he said, to exert the extra energy until he discovered sports to be a more practical solution. A fifth-grade boy in the crowd said both he and his brother have ADHD and fight all the time. Finard, who now plays on the varsity tennis team, advised him to do what he did and find a way to use that energy in a positive way. "When high school students come, they tend to be the rock stars for them," Priore said of the elementary school students. "They're the big kids, the role models; so when they talk about their personal experiences, we really feel like it drives the point home." Finard, who won the MHS George Washington University Engineering Award and the AP Physics B Award in his junior year, said he doesn't let ADHD define who he is, or will be.

"I'm Ben," he said. The car enthusiast hopes to become a bio-medical engineer to help cure the sick. Over the course of the week, grades one through five learned about different disabilities. While fifth graders learned about learning disabilities, fourth graders learned about physical disabilities, third graders learned about autism and Down syndrome, second graders learned about hearing impairments and first graders learned about visual impairments. Kindergarteners got a basic overview of visual and hearing impairments and physical disabilities. "Each class participates in two sessions," Priore said. "The first tends to be an informational session presented about that disability. The second session involves hands-on activities."

More than 40 parents including Kim Rubin volunteered to help out by, for example, teaching the children about the different disabilities. Rubin organized the first grade presentation Thursday, which featured a blind woman with her seeing-eye dog.

Dennis Oehler, another presenter for the fourth grade, became a below-knee amputee after a car accident at the age of 24. He later set a world record for the 1988 Paralympics Track and Field Team in the 100-meter and won gold medals in the 200 and 400-meter events.

Priore and parent volunteers are expanding the program this year to include presentation for the community March 13 featuring Spencer West, who lost his legs at the age of five due to a genetic disorder. The event is titled "Overcoming Challenges in Life" and will take place in the Hommocks Middle School Auditorium at 7 p.m.

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