- Associated Press - Friday, November 1, 2019

MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. (AP) - In the children’s book Megan Grannan was reading to first graders at the Brainerd School Monday morning, the main character, Sam, a short 6-year-old boy with messy red hair, reveals that his friend Miguel is much taller than he is.

“Miguel is bigger than Sam - and that’s what happened to Miss G.,” Grannan, a long-term substitute teacher at Brainerd, explained to the students as she looked up from the page she was reading. “I’m much shorter than Miguel too. But all of my friends are different in some way. Would it be fun if we were all the same?”

The students, gathered in front of her on a rainbow alphabet rug, responded with a loud chorus of “no.”

The book Grannan was reading out loud, titled “Not Too Big, Not Too Small, Just Right for Me,” explains what dwarfism is to children and encourages them to appreciate one another’s differences.

Grannan’s morning social studies lesson is one she wishes someone would have taught when she was younger.

The 26-year-old elementary school teacher is living with metatropic dysplasia, a rare form of dwarfism that, according to the National Institutes of Health, affects just under 100 people. She stands at about 3 feet 3 inches tall, and doesn’t expect to grow anymore.

October is both National Bullying Prevention Month and Dwarfism Awareness Month, and Grannan is making the most of it by bringing a variation of her lesson plan on diversity to preschool, kindergarten and first-grade classes in the district, with the hope of creating a version for older students, too.

“I’ve always hated school,” the teacher, who’s currently pursuing a master’s in special education at Drexel University, admitted. “I was always labeled. I was missing school for orthopedic surgeries, so I was behind, and I was put in the special education system. I didn’t want any part of school. But I knew in my heart I had to give back. It was there all along but it wasn’t until I was in (Camden) county college that I realized I wanted to teach.”

Grannan, a Stockton University alumna who’s been substitute teaching at different South Jersey schools since graduating in 2017, said she’s grown used to kids looking at her, making comments, and not knowing what they should say or if they should ask her questions. However, her openness and willingness to discuss dwarfism has helped her remove that awkward barrier and allowed her to form a deeper connection with students.

“When I was student teaching, I realized a month into it that my kindergarten students really weren’t listening to me,” the Atco native said. “They called me Miss G., but they didn’t know why. I went to kindergarten orientation with them and asked if they had any questions, but they didn’t. A month later, I had to ask them, ‘Do you guys know I’m a teacher?’”

Once Grannan explained that she’s a little person, students understood her better, respected her as a teacher, and finally started to listen, she recalled.

On Monday, she didn’t shy away from letting students ask personal questions - which ranged from “Can you drive a car?” (she can, and she’s taking the road test in a couple of weeks) to “Do you drive your scooter on the sidewalk?” and “Where do you buy clothes?”

“It’s kind of funny, I shop where you guys shop, because I fit in your size,” she told the students. “I’ll come to school and not know I’m matching one of you girls. We’ll be twinning that day.”

Grannan candidly discussed her everyday life and the challenges she has gone through, but also took some time to discuss what makes her similar to the students - she danced and took figure skating lessons as a kid, went boogie boarding at the beach, walks in 5Ks and has a twin sister, Erin, who’s unaffected by dwarfism.

“She’s doing more than just educating; she’s inspiring our students and staff in a way we weren’t looking for, but are happy to have,” Mount Holly Superintendent Jim DiDonato said. “Equity and inclusion in schools is not just about children. It’s about the adults as well. Having that environment is what makes a great school even better.”

At the end of the lesson, Grannan sent the children off to write their own sentences - “I’m different because … And that makes me special” - with drawings accompanying them.

The kids were quick to chime in and share what differences made them special as Grannan wrote them on a board. One student had four other siblings, another’s father was from Ukraine, some had darker skin than others, and one kid was the tallest.

“It’s amazing to hear kids say what they did today, and to get them all on the same page about accepting differences,” Grannan said.

Though Grannan is working at the school as a long-term substitute, she hopes to leave a lasting impact.

“I want people to know they should never give up on themselves,” she said. “I would have given up on myself a long time ago if I didn’t have the right support. If my students can take one thing away from me, it’s to be kind and never give up.”

Online: https://bit.ly/2NzQfY6

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