Disabilities awareness project gains national recognition

When recent high school graduates Elizabeth Cannon, Alicia Fowler and Kandyce Savee hopped on a flight to California earlier this month, it wasn't just for a vacation.

The girls were representing their early childhood education class at the National Family, Career and Community Leaders of America competition. They placed second.

The competition allowed the Applied Technology Center students to showcase the work they did planning and implementing a disabilities awareness day at York Road Elementary School.

The awareness day was designed to be a fun way to help children see past the stigma of having a disability.

Activities simulated what it was like to have different disabilities such as blindness, deafness, dyslexia and the loss of a limb.

Family Connection of South Carolina was given a grant to promote the program, called Awareness: The Key to Friendships, at schools throughout the state.

Several other Rock Hill schools have the program.

Although the grant provided most of the materials for the project, the high school students worked to create attractive displays for each booth. They also volunteered at the event.

"I was just tickled when they came up with the idea of making the boards more creative," said Judy Rauppius, a parent who worked with the high schoolers on the project. "That isn't something that I was very good at so I was really glad they were putting those boards together."

Savee said the program is geared toward younger children because they are so impressionable.

"You catch them when they're young and teach them about it so they have more of a heart when they get older," she said.

The activities didn't just help the elementary school students; the high schoolers gained from the project as well. They had to research the disabilities so they would know how to answer the children's questions.

"It was an eye opener to what children actually go through," Cannon said. "It was hard to work a wheelchair and be blind and do things like that."

Once the awareness day was over, Cannon, Fowler and Savee got to work preparing for the state FCCLA competition.

Other students helped put on the event at York Road, but they were the only three interested in competing.

The trio wrote four, one-page papers about the steps they took to complete the project, what its impact was, how the class helped and how it will affect their careers.

They also prepared a display board about the project.

In March, the students went to the state competition where they presented their work for the first time.

For some, the experience was nerve-wracking.

"It was just surprising when you get in there, and you've got three people staring at you and it's all quiet," Fowler said.

Despite the nerves, the girls won first place. That gave them the right to compete at nationals.

In order to go to the national competition, the students each had to raise more than $1,000 for the trip.

The national competition was held in Anaheim, Calif., earlier this month. There the students made another 10-minute presentation about the project to a panel of judges.

Their teacher, Jenna Wilson, judged other categories of the competition.

"It's important to me to do things with my students outside of the classroom," Wilson said. "I enjoy the competition. It gets them excited."

But for the students, the competition wasn't the only good thing in California.

Downtown Disney, Laguna Beach, shopping and taking a taxi and a public bus were some of the trip highlights.

Savee also said it was exciting to see the cultural differences between California and Rock Hill.

All three students are working in child care, preparing to go back to school. Savee and Fowler are headed to York Technical College, Savee to become a teacher and Fowler to become a dental hygienist. Cannon will attend Winthrop University to study early childhood development.