Ridge Park Elementary (RP) students, staff, and family members kicked off World Autism Awareness Day with their Third Annual Autism Walk.
The parade looped around the circle in front of the school twice, and students at the beginning of each class carried a puzzle piece that the children from that room helped to decorate in honor of Autism Awareness and acceptance.
"Look at all these kids!" said Kristin Jackowski who led a team of PTO parents coordinating the event. "They're so excited about their puzzle pieces. This walk is really special and something that they'll all remember."
The Autism Walk ended on the blacktop in the playground, where the students connected their pieces into a finished puzzle.
"I think the best part is when we got to see all the puzzle pieces together," said RP third grader Autumn Scarola. "All the classes did different designs. It's like how everybody's the same, just in their own different ways."
World Autism Awareness Day and the Autism Walk began a week of activities at RP that focus on acceptance. However, because the school houses the kindergarten through third grade Autism Support classes, RP students work on understanding autism and accepting differences throughout the year.
"We're all different. We all have strengths. We all have weaknesses. And that's what makes us special," said RP Autistic Support teacher Sarah Tanen. "Differences make us who we are, and we should accept people for who they are."
The students in the Autistic Support program at RP participate with their peers during specialists, recess, lunch, parties and other subjects and events as often as possible — which gives all of the children a chance to practice acceptance.
"I think this is important, because autism is kind of like a disability. We're all different in our own ways, but together we can just respect each other," said RP third grader Grayson Jackowski. "I think people would be surprised to know how many kids around the world have autism."
Activities for the rest of the week include making puzzle piece butterflies for a display in the school's lobby, reading books about acceptance and celebrating "Rainbow Day", when students and staff can wear a color or shirt representing a cause that's important to them.
"Even though today's about autism, everybody has something that's special to them or their family," said Mrs. Jackowski about Friday's Rainbow Day event. "It's good to celebrate each other and lift each other up."
For the Autism Walk, the RP students, staff and families also wore blue, which is a reference to the Light It Up Blue campaign. The Light It Up Blue campaign encourages people to wear blue on World Autism Awareness Day to increase global understanding and acceptance of people with autism. Many landmarks around the world are also lit with blue lights on this day.
World Autism Awareness Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007.