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Educators honored for autism awareness, inclusion efforts

Grand Haven Tribune - 6/18/2017

June 17--SPRING LAKE TWP. -- Efforts in bringing awareness and inclusion of students with autism have earned a handful of Spring Lake educators recognition from a local support group.

Autism Support of West Shore recently honored art teacher Carrie Andrews, physical education teacher Sarah Bulthuis, music specialist Rebecca Kaufman, and S.T.E.M. teacher Betsy Kipling with its 2017 You Make a Difference awards. Autism preschool teacher Elizabeth Carson was honored as the 2017 Teacher of the Year.

All five are teachers at Jeffers Elementary School.

Linda Elenbaas, a board member of Autism Support of West Shore, said Andrews, Bulthuis, Kaufman and Kipling were nominated for the awards because of their inclusion of children from Carson's classroom who are on the autism spectrum. The teachers modify their lessons so Carson's students are able to participate, and older students were partnered with younger students as peer mentors, Elenbaas said.

General education students have also participated in sensitivity training and a "sensory overload room" in an effort to gain an understanding about living with autism.

In April, the Jeffers Student Council led activities to raise awareness about autism and funds to support either Autism Support of West Shore or peer-to-peer efforts at Jeffers.

"(Carson) really is working on creating a culture of acceptance," Elenbaas said.

Jeffers Principal Shelley Peets said the work is a collaborative effort that stems from a mindset that all students can participate in their own way.

"Differentiation of instruction is a hallmark at the elementary level, and these ladies make it a point to apply differentiation to their lessons so all students are active and successful within their curriculum," she said.

Peets said that Carson "has taken on a key leadership role of educating staff and students about the importance of inclusion and helping to integrate into all that we do."

"Our uniqueness is what makes us special," Peets said, "and that is something we honor and celebrate at all levels."

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(c)2017 the Grand Haven Tribune (Grand Haven, Mich.)

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