Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen
AUTISM ACADEMY – Valentine’s Day embodies new meaning amongst classmates at Autism Academy for Education and Development, but its history remains unaltered.
Most people have no clue that Valentine was a priest and physician. The name comes from the Roman family Valentinus. The name is derived from the Latin word Valens, which means “strong and healthy”. Valentine was the name of several saints of the Roman Catholic Church.
The 3rd Century Valentine was arrested, imprisoned and martyred for marrying and aiding Christian couples. The Catholic Church designated St. Valentine’s Day as a holiday in honor of his February 14th execution. The first Valentine’s Day was in the year 496.
Today, non-believers and Catholics alike join the annual festivities. The best way to celebrate Valentine’s Day is to show love everyday to everybody, much like St. Valentine did. AAED Chandler teacher, Yvonne Hernandez, is also using the February holiday as an opportunity to celebrate Black History Month with her students.
“We all need to love each other – even children,” she said. “Being kind to people who look different is how we learn to do that.”
Decorations centered around diversity and love are the themes in her classroom. The students have become childhood fans of deceased African American entertainers like Ray Charles and Nina Simone. They were African American singers, songwriters and musicians during the civil right movement.
Charles was blind and Simone was an activist.
Hernandez is empowering young students to embrace the experiences of different cultures. AAED Tempe campus will celebrate with their classmates during an Annual Friendship Dance – nearly 70 students have signed up.
“It’s an extremely important social activity for our kids,” said AAED Tempe assistant director Katie Nieder. “It allows them come together, get dressed up, and have fun.”
Classmates learn correct social norms and functional behavior in a public setting. At AAED campuses, Valentine’s Day is set aside to teach kids the importance of expressing love throughout the entire year.
For the love of classmates, AAED is spreading a “strong and healthy” concept of love that extends beyond February 14th.