When it comes to disability, inclusion, and barriers, there are so many things we want to teach our kids. A new free K-12 online resource program, ReelEducation, uses film as a way to open up conversations about empathy and equity in the classroom.
A group of students sits rapt watching on screen as two animated stuffed animals are labelled as defected and rejected in a toy factory. The animals then decide to break out and explore what the life in the city could be. First they help each other out – one crafts a wooden leg for this new friend, the other helps tie on an eyepatch – and off they go into the big unknown. Upon discovering a toy shop, the two toys sneak in and place themselves in the window, at once hoping to fit in and also stand out. Will they be tossed out by the shopkeeper? What if no one wants them? As the toys worry about whether they belong and are good enough, a boy dressed up like a pirate comes into the store and gleefully picks out the toys. Their accessories match his and together they are a perfect fit.
In this non-verbal and elegantly animated short film, Macropolis, messages are abundant. These stuffed animals are just as cuddly and filled with love and adventure as any other toy, despite their missing parts. What exactly was wrong with them? Once they were equipped with support devices, there wasn’t anything that they couldn’t do. Someone loved them fully for and with their exceptionalities; even when adults tried to point out the toys’ differences, the child advocated for them just the same.
The teacher uses the free film guide and lesson plan to get these first graders identifying barriers and breaking down stigma. The format is simple: pick a movie, download the corresponding lesson plan, and plug in the code emailed to you to stream the film. The kits (the movie and lesson plan) are free and allow unlimited access. Developed as part of ReelAbilities Toronto, and now available across North America in partnership with ReelAbilities International, the lessons plans fully align with educational curricula in Canada and the US, which means that ReelEducation can be accessed anywhere, anytime! In its pilot year in the province of Ontario 5200 students in 119 schools accessed the program, and 100% of teachers noted that they intend to use the program again. There are 12 films and lesson plans to choose from, and we will be adding more resources every year.
Rachel Lissner is the ReelEducation Coordinator from the ReelAbilities Toronto Film Festival. Liviya Mendelsohn is the Artistic Director of the ReelAbilities Toronto Film Festival and Director of Accessibility and Inclusion, Miles Nadal JCC.