By: Alicia Sands Lurry
A group of students at Henry W. Grady High School is determined to make a difference in the community and the world around them.
Now, thanks to a grant from Wells Fargo and diversity training from No Barriers Youth, they are doing just that.
Working with their social studies teacher Nadia Goodvin, ninth graders Joanna Baker, Maura O’Sullivan, Henry Gelber, Charlie Gilbert, Bradley Colburn-Stanger, and Bianca Weber recently won a trip to New York City and a $5,000 grant as part of the Global Impact Challenge’s grand prize.
The challenge is a national competition designed to spark the best ideas from high school and middle school students for building a world free of barriers, stereotypes and discrimination. “Team PandaMonium,” as they’re affectionately known, plans to use their prize to create entertainment and social connections for children with sensory processing disorder, and to develop training for high school volunteers interested in building inclusive practices within our community.
The students have since formed their own nonprofit organization, SenseAbility Atlanta, which is dedicated to creating a full-scale clearinghouse of sensory-friendly performance options. They will also host sensory-friendly performances they plan to develop with local theaters such as the Horizon Theatre, Georgia Institute of Technology, and 7 Stages Theatre.
Students hope their efforts will both increase awareness in the Atlanta community about autism and other developmental challenges, as well as create opportunities for families who may have been homebound for lack of acceptance in prior recreation options.
“I hope this project will increase awareness in Atlanta’s theater communities of sensory accessibility and help families broaden their horizons in that respect,” said Maura O’Sullivan.
Goodvin applauded their efforts.
“The students are serious about the viability of their project proposals,” she said. “It’s amazing how a group of kids can bring an idea to life. Their enthusiasm and confidence inspire me. They will do so much good in their lives.”
No Barriers Youth is the premier educational program challenging young people to contribute their absolute best to the world. This is achieved through transformative experiences, classroom tools and real-world inspiration.
Teachers from 20 schools across the U.S. were chosen for training last summer in Tahoe and this fall, they recruited diverse teams of students to provide hands on training designed to foster creativity and develop projects to address local diversity and inclusion issues. Common themes developed by competing teams included improving accessibility, encouraging the inclusion of diverse ability populations, and recognizing the contributions of people with visible and non-visible disabilities.
Subject matter experts from Wells Fargo and No Barriers USA jointly evaluated the project proposals and video presentations. Overall, teams participating in the Global Impact Challenge included 156 students in nine states.
Team PandaMonium will travel to the 2018 No Barriers Summit, Oct. 5–6, in New York City. The summit is a premiere immersive event that brings together people of all backgrounds and abilities who are transcending barriers to unleash their fullest potential and live a life of purpose.