Empathy & Design in 9th grade

Simon’s ‘Peeps’:

Simon Yu came into my 9th grade class from China this year. Simon has cerebral palsy, and has great difficulty speaking, and walking. Otherwise, he is a perfectly intelligent (extraordinarily so!), emotionally mature young man. On the third day of school, he gave a slideshow presentation to his 50 classmates (two sections combined) about his coming to the US because China does not provide for people like him, and shared images of his home town, his interests (he likes to fish), and his email address. A few students reached out to him in friendship, and the whole class has welcomed him and learned how to listen slowly so that he can participate in the usual rhythm of the class. About a month ago, Simon shared that he really wanted to learn to play golf. I noted that this might be a fun “project” for students in the class, and about a dozen joined a group calling themselves “Golf this spring.” They dove into the research. Some went to lunch in a wheelchair or timed riding through Simon’s schedule in our building and described their experience on a shared document Simon established. He invited them to talk about their observations and emotions, and then offered his own. We learned from Simon some predictable things, such as feeling “like a caged zoo animal” in his chair, and then we were stunned to discover that in China, he was banned from going to high school (7th grade on) because he is considered "retarded." School officials referred to him as a “monkey,” and neighbor parents, even friends of his parents, expressed sympathy that they had a monkey instead of a son. When they gave birth to a second son, Jack was celebrated as “your first real son.” Simon’s mother now lives with the boys here and Dad still works at his lucrative job in China. Simon is expected to do chores alongside his brother, and during the time (two years) while they waited for immigration papers to come through, Simon and his mother taught themselves English and homeschooled. Once Simon’s team learned this, they became even more motivated (and started calling themselves “Simon’s Peeps”). They set up a conference call during lunch with a woman who founded an adaptive sports organization here in New York. She introduced them to another organization that uses a paramobile device they created to help people who have severe mobility challenges to play golf (standupandplayfoundation.org). One of the boys made a phone call to the nearest chapter, and set up a visit. The stand up and play folks at Candlewood in New Milford, CT (about an hour away) were so impressed that students were advocating for students, that they came in on a Sunday, after the club was closed for the season, to meet Simon and test out the paramobile device so that we could work on getting it and a stand up and play chapter established here in Westchester by spring. I included a few of the photos from that amazing day. The machine works great, Simon was thrilled, and hit 30 balls consistently! They let him keep the first one. I’ve loaded the video of the first shot on vimeo, if you would like to see it. https://vimeo.com/248653076 The password is: Yutoo

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