Abilities Awareness

What is Ability Awareness?

This year the Haddon Heights School District is embarking on the 8th year of their Ability Awareness Initiative. The primary focuses of the initiative are to raise awareness and to work to build a world of inclusion. Although this is a constant frame of mind that the district promotes, new events to increase acceptance and raise awareness continue to be organized. Since its inception, Abilities Awareness has not only been embraced by the school community but also by the Haddon Heights Borough as a whole. We appreciate your support as well as the support of the community leaders and local businesses as you have been active partners in spreading this positive message with the goal of creating an accepting and inclusive town-wide environment. This year’s Awareness Theme for the elementary is “Show Your Stripes!” We are planning a school-wide read and activities to celebrate our stripes!

Join the Special Education Parent Advocacy Group to assist in planning 2018-2019 events!

AbilityAwareness 2018-19

Please consider donating or joining the Putman family to walk to raise funds and awareness for Williams Syndrome!

Our Ability Awareness: "Inclusion Works! Inclusion Matters!" night event is scheduled as follows:
April 16, 2018,  6-6:30pm Arrival
Seventh Avenue School Multipurpose Room

Please RSVP by following the link, so we can prepare to celebrate with you!

Doors open at 6pm, with snacks available, to those interested in learning more about Williams and Downs Syndrome, as well as the High School "REACH for a Smoothie" Business! At 6:30pm attendees will view a short video, created by our own high school students, “Dispelling Myths about Disabilities”. Guest speakers, Jennifer and Will Hoheisel, will give us insight into the awesome world of Autism. Student awards will be distributed for participation in the "Inclusion Matters! Inclusion Works!" poster and writing contests. We will pause to raffle off a signed Alshon Jeffery Eagles Jersey to benefit the Eagles Autism Challenge and finish by highlighting more of the amazing qualities of our students! If you plan on celebrating with us, please complete the attached document.Thank you in advance for you support. Inclusion benefits everyone!

This year we are continuing our Ability Awareness Initiative, district-wide. The theme is "Show Your Stripes" and although the elementary school will be participating in a school-wide read of the book, "All My Stripes" by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer, we are encouraging all students to consider participating by raising awareness. Does your child have a sibling or friend who is differently abled, like Zane (the main character), who is near and dear to his/her heart? Are the pair interested and willing to be videotaped highlighting the “stripes” or unique qualities of that differently abled student? If you answered yes, I urge and invite you to share this information with me by reviewing the attachment and completing the permission form by March 1st! 

Show your Stripes Permission Form

feathers pic
Last year Ms. Michnowski (Elementary Art Teacher) was kind enough to have her students make the “feathers” you see pictured in the artwork. Mr. Smargisso (Junior/Senior High School Art Teacher) donated the frames, eagerly worked to paint the clouds, and assemble the art work with the high school REACH students and staff to create this beautiful and meaningful piece of art for the sensory room where it has been mounted. They took an idea Mrs. Renner presented and brought it to life! This demonstrates how we can collaborate to do awesome things!

Join us as we show support and build awareness! 
3.21 is internationally recognized as World Down Syndrome Day, signifying a third copy of the 21st chromosome. In honor of that extra chromosome, please rock brightly colored, mismatched, long, or printed socks on March 21st to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day.


  The students in the Haddon Heights School District High School REACH Life Skills and Careers classes have been working hard this school year to plan and prepare for the launch of their very own school business, “REACH for a Smoothie.” The REACH students brainstormed ideas, created a business plan, researched recipes, shopped for ingredients, practiced making smoothies in the kitchen, and finally, hosted a business presentation and taste testing event for administrators and child study team members. The students want their business to be as waste-free as possible, so smoothies will be served in glass mason jars with reusable silicone straws and lids.   The goal of this business is to provide the students in the REACH program with vocational experiences throughout the school year. Students will clean and prepare the kitchen, make and deliver the smoothies, clean up all of the materials, and handle the money. In order to make sure our students are able to be as independent as possible throughout this process, we will be starting small, and growing at a pace that works for the needs of the students. The business was launched in January and the students are thrilled to share their delicious smoothies with the district staff!

Ability Awareness Initiative 2017-18

Elementary School-wide Read

On April 13th, members of the Special Education team visited elementary schools across the district to read, “The Girl Who Thought in Pictures”.  The teachers educated students on Autism and discussed ways to be a friend to someone who has Autism.

Ms. Shaw created an interactive Autism board so students could confirm their knowledge about Autism. Students also had the opportunity to read inspiring stories of individuals with Autism. Furthermore, students wrote about their own experiences with Autism and colored ribbons for awareness. Classroom teachers were given an activity and an Autism teacher’s guide so they could implement mini-lessons into their classroom to spread awareness. Each class received blank paper copies of light bulbs, colored them blue, and inserted images related to Autism, such as the puzzle pieces, inside of the blue bulbs.  We “lit it up blue” in our hallways and classes without one ounce of electricity! Students made bookmarks for Autism New Jersey!

Sixth grade classes walked to raise awareness on April 13th.  The sixth-grade students from all three elementary schools met at the Cannons in Haddon Heights. Mrs. Renner read to the students and the students participated in a “Who Has...I Have” activity where they identified a partner and discussed facts about Autism. It was a great celebration!

The High School REACH class made Autism pins for staff. Mrs. Greer made a bulletin board that emphasized the theme, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Staff shared encouraging messages.  The High School Library created an awareness book display.

Teachers, parents, and students were invited to spread Autism Awareness by making or purchasing a t-shirt or a candy light bulb filled by our special education students.

Ability Awareness Initiative 2016-17

"Meet Our Families!"

This year, Mrs. Renner, Haddon Heights Special Education Director, wanted to introduce the community to 3 remarkable students and members of their equally awesome families. These students and families know Autism, Down Syndrome, and Williams Syndrome, first hand. The high school news team created the video which can be viewed by visiting https://youtu.be/tej4cEOLoJ8 or by following the link on the district main webpage. Check out the video!

"Putting Together the Pieces"

Autism Tattoo HandsAutism Tattoo Face

Did you know that 1 in 68 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (according to the Center Disease Control)? New Jersey again has the highest rates of those states evaluated with 1 in 41 children (2.5% of children). Chances are that you know someone with autism. Throughout the month of April, staff and students participated in lessons to learn more about Autism and wore blue on April 28th to raise awareness. Grade level book reads occurred and materials from Autism New Jersey were distributed to expand the discussion. Students at the high school expressed their awareness about Autism through art.  When you walk through hallways on the ground floor, you can see the works of Ms. Ridinger's art class.  Ms. Ridinger's class worked with a few of Mr. Dean's students to create a template for an Autism puzzle piece and together a collage was created. Christopher S. Walter, Haddon Heights Library Director, set up an Autism book display in their children’s library to collaborate in the education of the children in the community. The district is grateful for the library's support. 

"Ice Cream Social for Williams Syndrome" 

The district is also increasing awareness of Williams Syndrome, a genetic condition that is present at birth and can affect anyone.  It is characterized by medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays, and learning challenges.  These often occur side by side with striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities and an affinity for music. Williams Syndrome affects 1 in 10,000 people worldwide – an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States. It is known to occur equally in both males and females and in every culture(according to the Williams Syndrome Association). Currently, the Special Education Department is organizing an Ice Cream Social Fundraiser for Williams Syndrome.  It will occur late in May or early June! Materials will be available at the Social to grow knowledge and awareness of this syndrome. 

"Rock Your Socks"

This year, we will participate in Rock Your Socks. The idea behind it is that together we can create a single global voice for advocating for the rights, inclusion and well-being of people with Down syndrome in our school, community and around the world. March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day. It was selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which leads to Down Syndrome.

Rock Your Socks
Join us as we show support and build awareness! 

We will also organize an Ice Cream Social for Williams Syndrome. Williams Syndrome is a genetic condition that is present at birth and can affect anyone.  It is characterized by medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays, and learning disabilities.  These often occur side by side with striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities and an affinity for music.

Stay posted for event dates and specifics, and check out the Parent Advisory Group link if you are interested in joining to plan the fun.

Ability Awareness 2014-2015: "Strength"

Strength Project for Ability Awareness

Rikki Rogers said, “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.” Spring 2016, students recorded written messages (on streamers) describing something they take pride in, have overcome, and or accomplished to celebrate Ability Awareness. Students displayed their streamers at recess on the playground fences. Stop to read the messages that display our determination to succeed!

Ability Aware 1
Ability Aware 2
Ability Aware 3


Light It Up 1Light It Up 2

In honor of people with Autism worldwide, iconic landmarks, hotels, sporting venues, concert halls, museums, schools, universities, bridges, retail stores, and thousands of homes light it blue beginning on April 2nd! In our second year of community-wide support, homes switched the bulbs on their front porch to blue throughout the month of April, and staff and students wore blue to show our strength in solidarity.

Ability Awareness 2014-2015: "Give Back!"

"Light It Up Blue"

The month of April is Autism Awareness month and the Haddon Heights and Lawnside communities supported, celebrated and spread awareness for individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which currently impacts 1 and 68 individuals.  “Light It Up Blue” was a month long event in which households and businesses used blue lights to symbolize their support. School staff and students also wore blue t-shirts on April 17th as a show of unity for our friends and families who are impacted by ASD. Student art and Autism Awareness Trees created by our SEPAG committee were also displayed district-wide. Throughout Haddon Heights and Lawnside 300 light bulbs were purchased, as well as, 165 t-shirts with proceeds going towards Abilities Awareness to continue the initiative of raising awareness and celebrating differences.

Autism Awareness Trees

School and community members donated puzzle pieces to the school to help make an "Autism Awareness Tree" to be displayed at each of the districts elementary schools. At the October SEPAG meeting parent and staff volunteers came to together to create trees from the donated puzzle pieces. Now the trees will be painted by elementary students to prepare for display.

Autism Trees

Why Puzzle Pieces? On a nationwide level, the Puzzle Piece symbol reflects the mystery and complexity of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Also, since every puzzle piece is different in some way, a puzzle piece accurately represents the diversity of the individuals affected.

Ability Awareness 2013-2014: “Bubbling Up Awareness”

Bubbling Up Awareness

In October 2013 Haddon Heights students and community members took part in the fundraising theme of “Bubbling Up Awareness.” At the elementary level, staff and students participated during recess and at the half time of the Haddon Heights High School Football game, the crowd released bubbles to raise awareness. A t-shirt to fundraise and commemorate the event was created by Haddon Heights High School Senior Anthony Johnson.


Community-Wide Read

Fundraising efforts allowed the purchase of community wide reading materials, Carly’s Voice or The Reason I Jump, which were made available to community members, staff and students. Participants joined in a reading and reflection book talk on April 30th in the High School Library.

Essay and Poster Contest

Haddon Heights elementary students participated in poster and essay contests to celebrate and spread the message of abilities awareness with over 100 entries submitted! Posters were displayed with pride around the school district and throughout the Haddon Heights community with local businesses providing window front exhibits. 

Abilities Awareness Night

Abilities Awareness Night was held on April 16, 2014 in the Seventh Avenue Multi-Purpose Room. Event highlights included poster and essay contest student presentations/readings and awards, a parent panel, and teacher led activities for the students to participate in to help raise awareness.

Ability Awareness 2012–2013 

Throughout Abilities Awareness Week, teachers from all Haddon Heights and Lawnside elementary schools and the junior/senior high school were invited to participate in reading aloud a book with the students to inform, teach, and enhance their knowledge of disabilities and differences. Some of the book titles included: “Everyone Matters” by Pat Thomas, “If You're so Smart, How Come You Can't Spell Mississippi” by Barbara Esham, and “Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes” by Jennifer Elder.

Students in the elementary schools were able to “rock out” with community performer Sara O'Brien as she performed “Being Weird is Cool,” a program which teaches children to respect differences, celebrate uniqueness, and embrace weirdness, through music and self-expression. Elementary students were also invited to write an “I Can” statement on a post-it, which were placed on display at the entrances of each school. School library displays were also available to students and teachers with both fiction and non-fiction literature related to abilities awareness.

Other community-wide events included the STEPS Abilities Awareness Family Film Night to watch the HBO Documentary The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia. Directed by James Redford, The Big Picture is a personal, touching and sometimes humorous look at this developmental reading disorder, offering a broader and clearer view of the minds of people with dyslexia, and how an individual’s unique strategies for coping can help lead to success in life.

Ability Awareness Week came to a close with our Ability Awareness Night, which was hosted by the Haddon Heights Child Study Team. The evening kicked off with the introduction of our Ability Awareness contest winners, who shared their winning essays, drawings, and videos with the community. Guest speaker Dr. Paul Wichansky, who spoke to the junior/senior high school students earlier in the day, delivered a powerful, humorous, and enlightening presentation on overcoming challenges. Dr. Paul's message is simple: when we allow our imagination and our realistic possibilities to soar, we can confidently leap over some of the most overwhelming hurdles that life throws at us. Various stations were also on display throughout the night, including cochlear implants, sign-language, assistive technologies, and physical therapy.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank those who joined us and shared their time and message with our community:

  • Dr. Paul Wichansky, speaker from A Vision in Motion
  • Sara O'Brien, performer from Community Rocks!
  • Beth Greer, Assistive Technology Specialist/Instructional Technologist from Bancroft School
  • Norman Rothstein, Assistive Technology Specialist from Bancroft School
  • Heather Kriesman, Augmentative Communication Specialist from Bancroft School
  • Lisa Musumeci, from Advancing Opportunities
  • Kathy Simcox, friend of the district from Gloucester Township
  • Carolyn Tassini, Physcial Therapy Team Leader from Moss Rehab & her assistant Seamus the Service Dog
  • Haddon Heights STEPS and SEPAG groups
  • The teachers, staff and administration of Haddon Heights School District
  • The Borough of Haddon Heights for their resolution to recognize Ability Awareness Week

AA Week

Town-Wide Walk

Over 75 people registered for the Ability Awareness Walk! The day proved to be a success as the group walked through the community to raise awareness and fundraise for Abilities Awareness Week in the spring. 
AAW Walk
AAW Walk

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