Meet Leah Fumerton, a 2019 RHF Difference Maker Educator of the Year
“Leah Fumerton is the kind of teacher who makes a positive and lasting impact on her students and the teachers she works with. The concepts of growth mindset, resilience, and appreciating differences are part of her core values.”
These are the words of Susan Steele, acting Vice Principal of Astral Drive in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and the one who nominated Leah for a Difference Maker Educator award.
Putting a Face to Disability
Leah is a passionate teacher who has put great effort into creating a safe and compassionate environment for her students. When an RHF Ambassador came to speak to her school, Leah saw it as a jumping-off point to open a larger discussion. Her grade 3 students were so engaged and asked such insightful questions, that Leah knew they were ready to dive further into the topic of accessibility and inclusion. She asked herself, “How can we go further on this journey?”
Applying their Learning
She brought this question to her class, and they decided to partner with their grade 5 learning buddies to do an accessibility audit of their school to recognize potential problems and solutions for people with disabilities. The students determined the school had the basics covered, but came up with a list of ways to further help everyone, of all ages and abilities.
“Thanks to the RHF Ambassador presentation, while the kids toured the school building and grounds, they considered if people were permanently or temporarily restricted. Whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, they felt everyone should experience equal inclusion and feel safe while learning, playing or visiting the school,” says Leah.
Creating Positive Change
Leah and a few of her grade 3 students and their grade 5 learning buddies decided to present their findings to the school’s Job Occupational Health and Safety Committee meeting. Her students impressed the committee with a formal presentation, and their suggestions were officially submitted to the school administration. Leah says they hope to create change with these accessibility goals through a student-led team.
Continuing the Conversation
The Ambassador presentation also inspired a student’s parent to help organize another guest speaker, this time from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
Leah recalls one student who said to her, “Ms. Fumerton, I want to tell her I feel sorry for her, but I’m not sure if I should.” The student had great empathy for the speaker but was aware that talking about their disability in a certain way may be harmful. Leah encouraged the student to ask the colleague of the presenter and parent of his classmate what she thought, and together they approached the speaker. The student shared their feelings and the speaker told them: “Don’t feel sorry for what I can’t do. Look at all the things I can do.”
It took a lot of courage for the student to approach the presenter, but Leah says it came with the most important message the kids took home—to focus on the ability, not the disability. Through listening to the stories of both speakers, Leah says that the students "feel empowered, empathetic, innovative, and inspired to be agents of change.”
The Next Generation of Difference Makers
Despite the busy life of a teacher, Leah has taken the extra step to provide experiences for her students that foster an awareness of the potential of people with disabilities. With support from caring parents and people with disabilities generously sharing their stories, she’s helping empower a generation of compassionate leaders.