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West Jordan Journal

Pink shirts teach big lessons

Mar 29, 2017 09:41AM ● By Bryan Scott

Mrs Sheffield’s kindergarten class wears matching pink shirts to show support for classmates. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Jessica Sheffield’s kindergarten class at Mountain Shadows Elementary is a unique mix of kids dealing with unusual circumstances, including physical and mental disabilities, language barriers and grief and loss.

“Kids just have to learn to adjust to the differences we have in our class,” Sheffield said.

It all started with classmates teasing Brayden Dignan about wearing a “girl’s shirt.” He simply responded that his pink shirt was his “Ella Shirt.” When Sheffield learned it was worn in remembrance of his younger sister who had passed away, she saw an opportunity to teach empathy.

Sheffield asked Brayden’s mom, Angela Dignan, to be involved. Dignan arranged for the Mascot Miracle Foundation to visit the class. The mascots, who support families dealing with loss, taught the kids about ways they could support Brayden. Dignan also bought each child a pink “Ella bracelet” to wear to show their support and love for Brayden. 

Sheffield didn’t stop there. She actively got the kids involved in noticing others in their classroom that needed extra support.

Classmate Ashley Dahl had hip problems that limited her ability to sit on the floor with the rest of the class. Students were reminded to make sure there was a chair available for her. When Ashley used a walker after a corrective surgery, classmates clamored to help.

“They grabbed stuff for me and helped me get drinks,” said Ashley. The students even volunteered to stay in from recess to play with her, said Sheffield.

Sheffield told her class, “It makes my heart so happy. Even if we are different, we can play with everybody.”

Brittany Markham said her son, Devin Gunnell, has been affected by the students in his class. When Ashley had surgery, he told his mom he wanted to say a little prayer for her.

 “He’s a very thoughtful child, and it just melts your heart how well he takes these different circumstances, and he wants to be their friend, and he wants to help them out,” said Markham.

Devin, like the other kindergarteners, was also excited to learn sign language to communicate with classmate Sam Ramos, who is deaf. Students have learned some signs and how to interact with Sam through her interpreter. Sheffield highlighted Sam during their unit about the five senses.

“We talked about even when people are different than us and one of their senses does not work, we can still play with them,” said Sheffield.

To further promote unity, Sheffield thought it would be a great gesture for everyone to wear pink to show support for Brayden. Markham immediately volunteered to purchase 27 pink shirts for the class members. She had recently lost her mother to breast cancer and was touched by the idea of supporting a classmate though a difficult experience.

Impressed with the kindness and acceptance shown by her students, Sheffield chose to add the phrase “ABCDEFG COME AND PLAY WITH ME” to the shirts.  

Carla Bischoff, a student’s grandmother, volunteered to take care of printing the shirts.

“I thought it was a really important and a really good idea to instill in these little people,” Bischoff said. “I thought it was important enough to spend money on.”

Her grandson, Thachur, is autistic and struggles with social skills. She said he is learning to accept the differences of others in this kindergarten class.

“I think it’s so important to encourage the kids to love one another even though they’re different and accept them,” Bischoff said.

Once the shirts were printed, Nicole Shreeve, a parent who volunteers in the classroom often, spent eight hours helping students add their painted hand prints onto all 27 shirts.

On a Friday in February, Sheffield presented the shirts to her class.

“We talked about how we could all wear pink to help show you love Brayden,” Sheffield told the kindergarteners. “The shirt represents our love for each other.”  

“Pink turned into a boy color!” one student exclaimed.

“It's OK to wear pink, especially if it means something special. Some friends need a little extra love,” Sheffield told her class.

Shreeve and other parents are impressed with Sheffield’s efforts.

“I do think there are so many expectations on the teacher that it would be so easy to let kids’ personal lives slide,” Shreeve said. “She doesn’t need to pay tribute to Brayden’s little sister, but that’s a huge part of Brayden’s life. It’s the person Mrs. Sheffield is.”

She has noticed a difference in the students’ attitudes toward each other—there is less teasing because the teacher stays on top of it.

“She makes sure everyone here is safe and loved,” Shreeve said.