West Bridgewater students learn to celebrate differences
Speaker gives students insight about diversity, discrimination and bullying
By Sandra L. Churchill
May 26, 2009
WEST BRIDGEWATER — Fourth-grade students at the Howard School got a first-hand lesson that showed them people may be different but everyone should
be treated the same.
Speaker Geri Mariano talked to the students about diversity, discrimination, bullying and learning to deal with a new set of circumstances.
Mariano has a condition called diastrophic dysplasia, a disorder of cartilage and bone development that causes affected individuals to have short stature
with very short arms and legs. Researchers estimate that it affects about 1 in 100,000 newborns.
"Throughout my life, people have asked if I want to be called handicapped or disabled... I've always replied, 'Just call me Geri,'" Mariano told the children.
Mariano launched a traveling speaker program (www.justcallmegeri.com) to address schools and other audiences. She has spoken with nursery school children
through graduate classes about her challenges.
Local students got the message.
"I learned that no one's 'normal' and everyone's the same no matter what," said Howard School fourth-grader Alyna Fernandes.
"Geri Mariano is a very clever and beautiful woman," said fourth-grader Lena Khang. "She can do many cool things and she can really outsmart people when
they think that she can't do something."
"Seeing her helps children not to be scared," said classmate Bridget Mills.
Mariano said she was left at the hospital at birth by her biological parents and adopted at age 1½.
"I give those nurses and aides a lot of credit because they gave me a lot of attention and love and affection I didn't get from my biological parents,"
Mariano's adoptive parents provided a home of empowerment, where she was encouraged to feed herself, walk and attend school. She learned adaptive ways to write,
shampoo her hair and master independent adult living tasks, such as doing her own laundry.
"I was always willing to try new things, especially as a kid," said Mariano. "I was fearless."
Mariano uses canes to help maneuver from place to place. She's gone scuba diving and horseback riding, the latter thanks to a special handlebar attachment
to the saddle.
"Every-day objects can be the best kind of tools if you just think creatively," said Mariano, who uses a back scratcher to pull out the washing machine
dial when doing her laundry and a hook attached to a wooden dowel to transfer the wet clothes to the dryer.
"One of my strengths is I don't think there's only one way to do something," said Mariano.
Mariano also showed the students how she shampoos her hair by putting the cleanser on a comb in the shower. She also showed them her specially-adapter
car that enables her to drive safely.
The students were impressed.
"Her stories are so inspiring to me because she does so many cool things that I didn't even think about," noted classmate Kaitlyn Hathaway.
"She is a look-up-to person," said fourth grader Amy Wilson.
Student Julia Vanderstreet captured the theme of the presentation.
"When I think of it, I think we're all different, but we're all people so we should be treated the same," she said.