Students experience “Wonder”

5 mins read

By Amy Rigard

A number of students in Mrs. Katherine Shillaber’s and Mrs. Kaitlyn Ricciuti’s fifth through eighth grade Resource classes at Whale Branch Middle School recently read “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio and then saw the movie based on the book.

After the movie, the students listened to twin sisters Wesley and M.E. Sanders, who were born with a genetic cranial facial disorder, discuss the movie as well as what it has been like growing up in Beaufort with a craniofacial syndrome.  

“When I showed a few trailers about the movie, the students were shocked at the amount of bullying that went on,” said Ricciuti. “If anything, reading the book and taking them to the movies is a way to open their eyes about the differences in people and how bullying can hurt,” she said. 

She noted that Whale Branch Middle School has been focusing on preventing bullying and that this book has been an excellent teaching tool. In addition, a recent advisory period focused on social-emotional learning, which is why “Wonder” has hit home for the students on so many of the topics covered in this area.

Shillaber, who bonded with Gwen Sanders over a mutual love of Clemson University, has known the Sanders family for four years. When speaking with Mrs. Sanders recently about the movie, Gwen suggested asking the girls to speak to the school students. So, Shillaber ran with the idea and planned the trip and subsequent discussion for the students. 

“The students’ reactions to the book were positive overall,” said Ricciuti. “Many of them could relate to the characters’ experiences throughout the book.”

She said their classes have had plenty of discussions regarding bullying. “In the end, I do think having read the book gives them more pause when thinking about the words coming out of their mouths,” she said. “Many of the students identified one of the themes of the book as ‘be kind since you don’t know what others are going through.’”  

While at the theater, the teachers noticed a little bit of shock among the students when they first saw the main character, Auggie, who was born with Treacher Collins syndrome. But by the end of the movie, they were all cheering him on. 

After the movie, the students gathered at the school library to hear stories from the Sanders twins. “You could hear a pin drop as they relayed stories about their numerous surgeries, doctors, older brothers, and some of their travels for their surgeries,” said Ricciuti. They also told students about some of their physical limitations, such as fused elbows, which make simple tasks such as putting in earrings or pulling their hair up in a ponytail impossible. The sisters also shared that their older brothers felt somewhat left out when they were young because so much attention was paid to the girls due to their condition. 

 The twins also told the students about their experience meeting and having their picture taken with actor Jacob Tremblay, who played Auggie in the movie. 

One of the fifth-grade students mentioned two quotes from the movie: “It’s not how you look on the outside, but how bright you are on the inside,” and “If you have to choose between being right and kind, choose kind.”

Shillaber put those quotes on large posters and hung them in the hallway as everyday reminders for students at the school to be courteous to others. “The old standby is, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover,’” said Shillaber.

That’s a ‘wonder’ful lesson the students learned from the book, the movie, and their conversation with the Sanders twins.

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