In an effort to collect more support for Autism awareness, a Triangle Elementary School student reached out to officials throughout the state with an aim to make a difference.
As part of the third and fourth grade REACH Program (gifted and talented) curriculum in Hillsborough Township Public Schools, each student chooses a topic they are interested in and works to complete a “passion project” to share their research and ideas with their peers and school community.
This year, Bella Ruh, who is in fourth grade, chose Autism Awareness for her project.
With the help and support of her REACH teacher, Amy Casale, and several special education teachers at the elementary school, including the Somerset County Teacher of the Year, Viktoria Wargo, Ruh planned a day of activities to honor World Autism Awareness Day on April 2.
“I want to help make a difference and change how people interact with others that have autism,” Ruh said.
Ruh said she wanted her celebration and awareness campaign to reach beyond the walls of Triangle Elementary School students, families and staff. With assistance from Wargo, invitations were sent to community members in key roles throughout Hillsborough Township as well as people around the state.
“When Bella approached me and asked to help plan our Autism Awareness activities, I was brought to tears. To have a student so passionate about supporting her friends is exactly what we have been striving for in our schools,” Wargo said. “To see this connection through friendship come to fruition is as priceless as it gets when you are a teacher. The entire experience has been such a powerful teaching moment for both Bella and myself.
“I am honored to have the support of our special guests who visited us today and shared in our celebration,” Wargo said.
In attendance for Triangle Elementary School’s Autism Awareness celebration were Lamont Repollet, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education; Senator Kip Bateman (R-Hunterdon, Middlesex, Morris, Somerset) and Jennifer Skomial, who is the New Jersey State Teacher of the Year.
Also in attendance were members of the Hillsborough Township Committee, members of the Hillsborough Board of Education and numerous administrators from around the district.
The day’s schedule of events for the attendees included an “Open House,” so visitors could observe students in the school’s autism program, followed by a discussion with Wargo, the classroom teacher. The visitors were then invited to “Walk for Autism Awareness” where they joined the students and staff of Triangle Elementary School in a walk around the school.
Students and staff wore blue in recognition of autism awareness and carried handmade signs of support as parents and community members cheered them on.
“The Passion Project is such an integral part of the REACH curriculum. It gives students an opportunity to choose what they want to learn about. When Bella expressed an interest in learning about autism, I was both inspired and hopeful,” Casale said. “Over the course of the year, Bella nurtured her idea and let it grow in a way where she could make a difference. We can all make a difference if we try.
“I couldn’t be prouder of her hard work and dedication. I hope she carries this with her and continues to ignite her desire to help others,” Casale said.