Hudson -- Students, teachers and staff at East Woods Elementary School closed April after a month long campaign to help raise autism awareness.

The theme "I Can Transform a Life" was used as students learned, taught and celebrated ways each one could help transform the life of a person with autism. "It was a fantastic way to bring awareness of Autism and involved our students in the educational process, giving back, and the creativity of art/posters involved," Principal Paul Milcetich said of the month's theme. "The reason East Woods chose to do Autism Awareness Month is to celebrate our students and people in general who have autism and to raise awareness."

During the month, students created butterflies and filled in a section which read "I can transform a life by ...," according to Milcetich. The students also decorated their butterflies with their own design, he said.

The idea for the event and the planning lead was taken by the Autism Awareness Committee which included: chairperson Josanne Hyclak; Michelle Carter; Kristen Eiskamp; Becca Moskovitz and Kim Strausser.

"They [committee members] are passionate about autism and working with students with disabilities and put together a terrific month of activities to meet the objectives of awareness and celebration," Milcetich said. "Typically, East Woods plans some sort of event or events in the month of April, but each year the details change, depending on those involved."

The students also made and sold bracelets, pencils and buttons, raising $350, with all proceeds benefitting the Autism Society, Milcetich said.

"My part in Autism Awareness month was the chairman of a wonderful group of educators who came together to collaborate on how we can make April a meaningful month showing ways to educate the staff and faculty about the disability of autism," Hyclak said. "Kristen Eiskamp, Michelle Carter and I are intervention specialist, Becca Moskovitz is a speech therapist and Kim Strausser is the psychologist -- we all had different responsibilities to help in our awareness mission."

Eiskamp's students made five large butterflies which were placed around the school, Hyclak said. "They gave a variety of messages; Everyone has a voice. Everyone needs a friend. Everyone belongs. Everyone has feelings. Everyone enjoys humor and fun. Everyone has a dream for the future."

Carter's students read ways to transform a life of a person with autism on the Friday announcements. Ideas included learning about the facts of autism, inviting a student with autism to be a partner on a project or activity at school, inviting them to hang out after school, sit with them at lunch, Hyclak added.

Strausser gave facts about autism and answered student questions.

Strausser hopes the lessons learned will continues with the students, and not just about those with autism.

"It's the general idea that we are supporting you should be kind to one another, not just to students with special needs, but to everyone," Strausser said. "This month was highlighting how they, as students, could be a part of being supported and kind and not just when someone needs a friend."

Students had a variety of "insightful ideas" on their butterflies, Hyclak said.

"These beautiful and thought provoking butterflies were displayed in the showcase for the entire month of April," Hyclak added.

Ava Butina, a fourth grader at the school learned an important lesson, she said.

"I learned that people with autism are no different than me," Ava said. "They laugh and want to have fun just like me. And they do. I think the school should have this every year."

Moira Ackerman, also a fourth grader agreed.

"The students with autism should be treated just like other students," Moira said. "They are just like the rest of the school. They are very nice and would be a good friend."

Fourth grader Kennedy Schmid added "even though they have autism the students should be treated the same as everyone else."

"They make great friends because they are very nice," Kennedy said.

The most important lesson taught the students during the month was to " understand and accept the unique traits that all people have and to accept these differences with an open mind," Milcetich said.

"Students had the opportunity to reflect about peers with Autism, how they may think and behave differently, and how they could transform another human beings life by simple and kind acts," he added. "It made a positive difference in the climate of our building and hopefully be a lesson that students carry with them for a lifetime."


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