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Helping kids break stereotypes

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Many schools offer some lessons on disabilities, but rarely at such a deep, personal level.

"Every school these days is working in the antibias, antibullying fields, [but] I think few are focusing their efforts on disabilities," says Jamie Kaplan, executive director of The Cromwell Center for Disabilities Awareness in Portland, Maine.

The center so far has reached about 20,000 third- to fifth-graders with its programs, and demand is "exponential," he says.

One reason such education is needed: People still stare, tease, and exclude.

Someone once whistled the "Heigh-ho" song from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" as Marie Trottier walked by. She's a little person, one of Doben's repeat visitors who works at Harvard University. At the Cambridge Friends School, students run up to talk with her and parents thank her.

"It's nice to have that level of acceptance and inclusion; it feels good, versus the hurt and the stereotypes," she says. "They'll be great peer leaders."

Doben's curriculum, cotaught by fellow first-grade teacher Anthony Reppucci, is "much more thorough than anything I've ever seen," says Jacqueline Miller, a science curriculum developer who uses a wheelchair. "The kids ask very intelligent questions."

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