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Students learn about accepting differences in others

Haley Gustafson | Daily Press Above, Dr. Steve Kasten, a plastic surgeon at the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, talks to Escanaba Upper Elementary fifth graders about his job Tuesday.

ESCANABA — Representatives from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan visited the Escanaba Upper Elementary Tuesday afternoon. The group of physicians, along with local representatives and doctors, presented on dealing with being different and how to accept those who may not look like others.

The visit concluded the EUE fifth grader’s study of the New York Times Bestselling book, “Wonder,” which was recently made into a movie. The book showcases Augie Pullman, a fifth grader with Treacher Collins syndrome and a cleft palate, who is entering public school for the first time. The syndrome and cleft palate make Augie appear to be different from the rest of the students.

A cleft lip and palate, which impacts 1 in every 500 children in the United States, are facial and oral malformations that occur early in pregnancy causing the baby’s lip or mouth to not form properly. Treacher Collins syndrome is a genetic disorder that is characterized by deformaties of the ears, eyes, cheekbones and chin.

Throughout the book Augie encounters struggles, like bullying, and also many triumphs when people accept Augie for who he truly is and not by the way he looks.

According to EUE fifth grade teacher, Jeff Wright, the book was a great way to show the kids how to “choose kind” and to look past imperfections.

“I think it gives the message of no matter what your discussions or choices are, to make sure you always choose kind,” said Wright.

Fifth graders also took a field trip to see the movie at the Willow Creek Cinema in Escanaba, added Wright.

The book and its message struck close to home with Wright and the EUE, as one of the fifth graders, Reid Brazeau, has a cleft lip and palate. Wright said that despite Brazeau’s differences, everyone at the school accepts him for who he is and the presentation helped open that dialogue.

“They see how funny he is and how kind he is and they’re attracted to him,” said Wright. “He’s just Ried.”

Brazeau, who had just visited the U of M hospital in October, said having the doctors at the school was a real treat.

“I thought it was really good,” said Brazeau. “I thought it was pretty cool for them to travel all the way from Ann Arbor.”

While Brazeau may have some differences from his fellow fifth graders, he said everyone at the school has been really accepting.

During the presentation, Dr. Steven Kasten, a plastic surgeon at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, discussed the many surgeries he has encountered over his career at the facility, as well as the variety of services offered to patients.

In addition, Kasten told the group of fifth graders that no matter what a person may look like, they should always treat them with respect.

Along with Kasten, Speech Pathologist Natalie Wombacher spoke about her role at the hospital and how she helps treat children with a cleft lip or palate. She explained that she helps the kids with the facial differences speak properly and more clearly with therapy.

Carolyn Walborn, a nurse practitioner, said what struck her most about the movie version of “Wonder” was that the ones who accepted Augie right away were better off.

“One of the things that struck me in the movie were the ones that took the time to get to know Augie were better off in the long run,” said Walborn.

Walborn explained to the group of students that people are like icebergs and what we see is only the “tip” of who they really are. Taking the time to get know the person for who they are is seeing the “whole iceberg.”

State Representative Beau LaFave also spoke, giving his first hand experiences with bullying and other issues due to his birth defects. LaFave was born with bone abnormalities, causing him to lose one of his legs and one of his arms to not fully develop. Despite this, LaFave said he overcame his struggles and it has made him the person he is today.

“Some of us are not good at running, some of us are not good at singing,” said LaFave. “But that’s okay. Find something you’re good at and find something you enjoy.”

Local orthodontist, Dr. Steve Ouwinga, also spoke. Ouwinga said he works with kids everyday to make their teeth as straight as they can be. In addition, Ouwinga works hand-in-hand with the University of Michigan team to help kids with cleft palates or other mouth deformities to make sure their jaws are sturdy and in the right position.

Ouwinga said no matter how a person is acting or what they look like, always consider what they may be going through and to put yourself into their shoes before judging. He quoted a Harry Potter character, Albus Dumbledore, to make his point clear.

“We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy,” quoted Ouwinga, adding kids, as well as adults, should always consider others before passing any judgement.

Following presentations, students were given the opportunity to ask any questions they had, including what the physician’s favorite parts of the book were and about their jobs.

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