“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

These words, uttered by Helen Keller, American author, political activist, and lecturer, most widely known as the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree, express the overriding theme of the unit of study recently completed by 7th grade Language Arts classes.

It all began with a reading of Helen Keller’s biography, The Story of My Life, over the summer and ended with a visit and talk with Jeanie Thompson, executive director of the Alabama Writers’ Forum about her newly published book, The Myth of Water: Poems from the Life of Helen Keller. Thompson shared with the students her journey to bring to life a view of Helen Keller previously unknown to many of Keller’s admirers.  The students learned among other gems of insight that Keller’s plans to marry the love of her life were thwarted when her parents intervened. According to Thompson, this event played a pivotal role in Keller’s decision to devote her life to one of service. She gave her heart to the world.

As part of the focus on disabled people, the students read The Acorn People by Ron Jones, a college student who worked as a counselor at a camp for disabled children, an experience that changed the lives of all involved. The students then read a variety of picture books as mentor texts about disabled and special needs children, and chose and researched a specific disability. Finally they wrote and illustrated their own picture books. An extension of the assignment had the 7th graders read their books to the 5th grade Language Arts classes, who found them to be an entertaining way to learn about disabilities.

Overall, the students agreed that immersion in this topic taught them to think critically and sensitively about differences.

Wanda Williams