Brooklyn school hosts autism awareness-focused fashion show

A group of students’ hard work paid off on Friday, May 26 as the tiny fashionistas of P53K@437 in Kensington worked together to put on their very own fashion show.

The showcase – dubbed the “Autism Awareness SHARE LOVE Fashion Show” – was the culmination of a group of children’s hard work in a student-driven Student Enrichment Model (SEM) program, said school speech therapist and one of the group’s leaders Crista Conto.

According to Conto, students were divided into groups after attending a school-wide SEM fair to choose the focus of their own cluster’s project. Some, she said, chose painting (at the end of which their work was displayed in an art gallery) while others opted for planting (at the end of which students visited a local old-age home to donate their finished products).

Conto’s group of five chose fashion, and focused it around autism awareness.

Prior to the grand finale, her fashionistas watched a video about autism and engaged in class discussion before coming up with the logo “Autism is a part of me,” later learning more about what it means to be different.

“We realized we share some things and some things we do not,” Conto explained, adding that, after students created the logo, they also created an adapted book about autism – which they read aloud from at the fashion show — and learned about the autism puzzle piece, then creating their own.

Students then learned about the art of fashion from decades’ past.

“They compared clothes from then to the clothes right on their backs,” she said. “Throughout the weeks [leading up to the fashion show] the students explored a variety of textures and materials. They created masks, capes, aprons, soccer jerseys, their very own unique t-shirts, a tutu and fabulous jewelry to finish off their look.”

They then practiced their catwalks, which were on display that Friday to an audience full of fellow students, school staff and even parents.

“It turned out amazing,” Conto said. “Not only was it so cute but it was honestly amazing to see how dedicated these kids were to this and how into it each and every one of them was.”

Conto’s entire cluster — all of whom have some sort of developmental delay or are on the autism spectrum — came in with smiles, ready to recite their part of the book they made and show off their outfits.

“It was just so awesome because it was an opportunity for these students to show to everybody in the audience that they can do anything they set their minds to,” said Conto, adding that one of her students – a minimally-verbal boy – was able to read his entire passage, even though he did it while laying down. “He wanted to get down on the floor to read it so we all said, ‘Go for it!’ and lay down with him. He was able to do it. That, to me, showed these kids that they can do anything. Just sometimes they need to do it a little differently.”

Proceeds from t-shirt sales at the fashion show also went to Autism Speaks.

“It was such a success,” Conto said, stressing that next year, she and her team would love to turn the “SHARE LOVE Fashion Show” into a school-wide event. “We plan to do it again and get more kids involved.”

Though, she added, involvement certainly wasn’t an issue this time around.

“We had kids from other groups there supporting ours, high-fiving them, dancing with them,” Conto said. “We even had a group of kids doing mock interviews with our group on the red carpet. It was awesome.”

The whole thing, she said, could not have gone so smoothly without help.

Conto thanked fellow cluster leaders Sharon Hunter, a para, and Olga Tyan, a teacher, as well as her two sisters – Taryn and Alexa – for dedicating their time and talents. Taryn, a makeup artist, dolled up the girls in Conto’s cluster, while Alexa was on hand to help take pictures and pitch in wherever she could. Angelica Diaz, an event planner and entertainment coordinator at Event Works, was also in attendance with a photobooth and other exciting party favors. Entertainment was also provided by aspiring singer Concetta Raineri.

Other volunteers included Meghan Proehl, Delania Henry, Carlos Carabello, Jenna Colin-Patel and Sadie Lacina – all of whom, Conto said, were invaluable.

“Without collaboration, it wouldn’t have been possible,” said Conto, also thanking the school’s principal Heather Leykam for her constant support and guidance.

P53K@437 is located at 713 Caton Avenue.

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