Telling His Story to Inspire Chelmsford Students to Be Agents of Change and Kindness
CHELMSFORD -- South Row Elementary School third- and fourth-graders giddily sat cross-legged on the floor waiting for a presentation Friday morning. They had read R.J. Palacio’s book “Wonder,” which tells the story of a boy with facial difference.
Auggie Pullman’s character was ostracized and at times felt invisible because of his differences. The story students read as they flipped through the pages of “Wonder” came to life Friday as Sam Drazin told his personal story which, at times, was similar to Auggie’s. Drazin grew up with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a rare disorder impacting his hearing and development of his facial bones.
He had a hearing aid since he was 6 months old. At 5 years old, he underwent five surgeries where cartilage was extracted from his ribs and added to his ears. Later in life, he also had surgery on his jaw and on his nose.
Growing up with a hearing aid had its advantages and challenges. If Drazin got in trouble with his parents, he said he could easily turn off his hearing aid to avoid listening to a long lecture. The kids erupted in laughter.
With his hearing impairment, Drazin cannot localize sound. He told the story about losing his friends while playing flashlight tag in a backyard. They called his name, but it was no use -- the sound of their voices offered no indication of where they were calling from. He ran in circles around a tree looking for his friends until he heard laughter.
“I finally looked up and guess where they were?” Drazin said. “In the tree the whole time.”
Drazin recalled using an FM system, which allowed him to better hear lessons in school. The teacher would wear a microphone and when Drazin switched to FM mode, he could hear the teacher’s voice much louder and clearer, while the background noises in the classroom were quieted. He described it as like a one-way walkie-talkie. But with that, he sometimes overheard things he was not meant to.
“When I was in first grade I remember sitting there doing my work and my first grade teacher walked across the classroom to talk to the other teacher about the special surprise that we were having after recess,” Drazin said, saying he thought he was the world’s coolest first grader for knowing the big surprise.
On the down side, sometimes teachers left their mic on when they went to the restroom. The students at South Row piped up in disgust and laughter.
Drazin said when he got to middle school, a lot of the people he thought he was close to weren’t actually his friends. Part of the reason he said it is so important to share his story to inspire students to be “little agents of change.”
“We all have things that we’re trying to get a little bit better at and that’s okay,” he said. “And rather than ignoring people for what makes them different, we need to recognize each other in positive ways for what makes them different.”
Drazin, who lives in Bradford, Vermont, was an elementary school teacher for five years. For the past six years he has been traveling to schools to give presentations like these, as well as work with school staff on professional development, through his nonprofit organization Changing Perspectives.
On Thursday, Drazin met with South Row Elementary School teachers and staff for a workshop and later met with parents from the community. Aside from Vermont and Massachusetts, Drazin has also traveled to schools in California, Connecticut, Maine, New York, Ohio and more.
South Row Elementary School Principal Molly McMahon said having Drazin at the school over two days was amazing. Following the presentation for the third- and fourth-graders, he also presented to the kindergarten, first- and second-grade students. Some students were even chosen to have lunch with Drazin, where they would have an opportunity to ask more questions.
“I think we are very focused on and really appreciate our diverse community here, whether that is disabilities, race, religion, ethnicities,” McMahon said. “Students being able to make that connection with a person who is different and still see them as human is powerful.”
If there is anything McMahon wanted students to come away with Friday, it was a stronger and more concrete understanding of empathy.
“I think it’s our most important core value and the most important thing we can teach kids,” she said. “We focus quite a bit on kindness.”
For more information on Drazin’s organization Changing Perspectives, visit www.cpne.org . To have Drazin at your school, visit www.samdrazinspeaking.com for more information.
Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.