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SEPAC spearheads Marathon School book display to erase stigma

by | Mar 6, 2024 | Education, Featured: Education

More than 40 donated books relating to special education recently were delivered to the Marathon School library, where they are on display in time for March’s Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

Erica Seekell, a member of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC), spearheaded the project and expressed gratitude for the overwhelming support the effort received.

“It’s important for the children at Marathon to see their own stories in books,” Seekell said. “It shows them their stories matter, too, that stigma is wrong, and differences should be embraced.”

Seekell said SEPAC worked with librarians to receive recommendations and create a list of books related to the special education (SPED) experience. Whether including characters with special needs or on topics like inclusion, anti-bullying or specific challenges, the titles “build a sense of self-worth” for children.

Information about the project got out through Facebook, school news and word of mouth. Residents in Hopkinton and beyond who heard about the collection wanted to get involved.

“The outpouring of support was incredible,” Seekell said. She noted that some people who donated sent touching, heartfelt messages as well.

“They wrote, ‘Thanks for teaching about inclusion,’ or ‘This [book] tells the story of our family.’ It was an honor to hear their stories, and I am grateful this happened,” Seekell said.

“I am happy the community showed up for us,” she added. “It is what I love about Hopkinton. …We have neighbors who care, and through this, they are telling our kids that they matter.”

The principal, librarians and school administrators got on board with the book drive “from the get-go,” Seekell said, showing SEPAC that collaboration is possible and “the community is better because of it.”

SEPAC, district improve relationship

This book project is one example of how SEPAC and the school district are “moving forward and working more positively” together following dissension last year, Seekell said.

When SPED therapist positions were slated to be cut, there was a public outcry. SEPAC members rallied to show their support for the therapists. They spoke out at School Committee meetings and forums, carried signs and sparked change.

At that time, SEPAC was critical about the lack of communication and cooperation from school administrators.

Today, SEPAC, the School Committee and school personnel are trying to meet more regularly and have a more harmonious relationship, keeping the lines of communication open.

Insight offered on playground proposal

When the district proposed an accessible playground at Marathon School, Seekell and other SEPAC members rallied to garner support.

Seekell was among the speakers before the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) to provide personal testimony and seek funding for the $1 million project.

The CPC ultimately denied the request but it will be conducting a study on the accessible playground issue. Seekell said SEPAC would like to have one or two representatives “have a presence” with that effort.

SEPAC meets monthly for coffee in the library in a less formal setting now, something Seekell said is “less intimidating” for parents of children with special needs who sometimes find it difficult to talk about their experiences.

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