Brooklyn school channels Ellen DeGeneres with kid-created, autism awareness talk show

May 7, 2018 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Following on the heels of a successful autism awareness fashion show last spring, the kids at P53K@437 in Kensington took the work of their Student Enrichment Model (SEM) program a step further this school year by creating their very own talk show.

Now, they’re hoping it grabs the attention of celebs like Ellen DeGeneres.

The project, Crista Conto — the show’s executive producer, alongside co-producers Sharon Hunter and Tanisha Graham — said, was the culmination of a group of children’s hard work in SEM, a yearly student-driven program that allows kids to think outside the mandated curriculum and come up with a fun, group project on their own.

This time around, the kids got to work together with students from P.S. 130, with whom they share a school space.

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After meeting with teachers from P.S. 130 who chose general education students to participate, kids from both ends of the shared school space worked together to put together their very own talk show called “Koffee with Kids.”

“We learned about Ellen, who a host is, and how to ask questions,” Conto said. “Basically, my goal was for our children with disabilities to be able to show their capabilities and also be able to advocate for themselves.”

Since her students range from non-verbal and minimally-verbal to verbal, Conto said, she and her fellow team leaders encouraged kids to be a part of the talk show in their own way, some conducting interviews, some a part of the audience, and others just there to dance and have a good time.

“Every week for an hour, students from the general ed school joined my kids and they did the talk show together,” she said. “They were able to show the range of disabilities that our students have but also how brave and determined they are to stand up for themselves.”

All of the involved students had permission to be involved in the talk show which, Conto said, has already spread more than she could’ve ever imagined on social media.

“People have said such nice things,” she said, adding that, in addition, her school has written letters to DeGeneres in hopes she’ll see what she’s inspired.

The main message, Conto said, are a pair of slogans the students came up with at last year’s fashion show: “Autism is a part of me but it doesn’t define me” and “Everybody is different and that’s okay.”

“The feedback has really been amazing,” Conto went on, adding that, at a Monday, April 30 schoolwide walk, students from both P53K and P.S. 130 were able to mesh once again, and that it was even more sweet now that they’ve gotten to know each other through “Koffee with Kids.” “What I did was I basically regrouped our whole school so that general education students were able to come to our classrooms and our high functioning kids were able to go downstairs to theirs,” said Conto, the school’s speech therapist. “That way, everybody got to know each other while also learning a little more about autism and what it means to be different.”

Of course, Conto said, the show couldn’t have been possible without the team of students, teachers and staff members behind it. Among them, her school’s principal Heather Leykam and the assistant principal Jessica Drobka; P.S. 130’s principal Maria Nunziata; and other staff volunteers: Emily Keunen; Michelle Marciano; Marc Stegman; Chandrika Menon; Olga Tyan; Jalesia Antoine and Ebethal Mohammad.

She also thanked the four student volunteers from P.S. 130: Xavier Beelders, Phemie Romano, Kaymbri Wells and Diyorbek Fozilov.

Even more names can be seen in the show’s credits, which roll after a quote from DeGeneres herself: “Be kind to one another.”

P53K@437 and P.S. 130 are located at 713 Caton Avenue.

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