Julie Herbert stayed home from school with a headache last Monday, but nothing could keep her from singing in the school's annual spring program that night.
After all, it was her grandmother's first opportunity to attend one of Julie's school programs -- and she had her 9-year-old granddaughter to thank for it.
Until last week, Elkridge Elementary School had no ramp or other access for disabled people. Julie's grandmother, stricken with polio years ago, uses a wheelchair and had never been able to see her granddaughter in a school program.
But on Monday, the school opened a wheelchair ramp that was built and paid for through the county's Gifted and Talented program. The project began with an idea Julie shared with her classmates last year.
"I thought it was a good idea because a lot of people can't get to see the programs and I felt sorry for them," she said. "Why should they miss the programs just because theycan't get up steps?"
"Now I can't miss a one," said her grandmother, Marie Phillips, 64, of Elkridge. The children, she said, were a delight.
"It was wonderful. I always liked to hear the children sing and to see my little granddaughter up there, her face just beaming."
The other 14 children in the program liked Julie's idea from thestart. The first step was to interview the school's 560 pupils to determine how many disabled relatives might use the ramp.
"We had togo into the kindergarten room and ask them if they had a grandmotheror grandfather who were either in a wheelchair or on crutches," Jason Wachs, 9, said. "They didn't understand, and we had to explain everything."
The children said the survey revealed that 18 percent of the school's pupils had relatives who were disabled.
Choosing a location and designing a structure to suit the area was the second step. Because programs at the school are held in the multipurpose area atthe lower level of the building, it was practical to design a ramp there.
The children divided into four groups, each designing its own model of a ramp.
"I liked making the little models," said LamontThompson, 10. "One was really, really long, and some of the models were really little."
Ultimately, the ramp design and the blueprintsfor it were supplied by Bill Prehn, co-owner of an Elkridge construction company. His 9-year-old son, Spencer, a pupil at Elkridge Elementary, enlisted him for the project.
The children had originally specified a portable ramp because the building will not be used after the next school year. A new Elkridge Elementary, complete with handicap access, is being built on Montgomery Road and is set to open in thefall of 1992.
"The school board said they did not have the janitorial staff to set up and take a portable ramp down," Prehn said. "Also, Elkridge school is overcrowded, and there would be no room to store the structure," he said. So the children went back to the drawing board and came up with the 4 foot-by-70 foot wood structure.
After the plans were approved by the board of education and the county's Planning and Zoning Department, the pupils raised 650 to pay for building materials under the guidance of Gifted and Talented resource teacher Jill Millicent.
The children sold candy bars to raise the money. That was the best part of the project for Christine Phoebus, 10.
"I liked going around to different places and selling things to makemoney," she said.
The group, including parents, broke ground for the ramp in April when they began digging postholes.
"The kids actually were digging the holes with shovels and nailing the wood together," Prehn said. "We had a hammer for every child and a lot of parentinvolvement."
Prehn estimates that the children spent about 200 hours on the building project.
But that was the best part for most of the children.
A snapshot shows 9-year-old Chris Grabowski's head level with the ground as he stands in a hole up to his neck. "I liked digging the holes and hammering," he said.
The project was officially completed May 30, just in time for the spring program. As the children discussed the program Monday, their excitement was evident.
"We did a lot of work on that ramp," Justin Weeber said. "I hope all the grandparents can come now."
It was 45 minutes from graduation ceremonies at the University of Maryland, and my husband and I had arrived early in order to as sure a glimpse of our daughter as she received her diploma.
With nothing to do but nurture the wave of nostalgia that was descending upon me, I realized that the commencement exercises would culminate 17 years' worth of Christmas programs, spring recitals, school plays and any other reason for displaying our child's endeavors.
I remembered our initiation into the first program, a preschool Christmas extravaganza, when my daughter stood ona stage with her classmates and scanned the audience until she foundus. Pointing a finger in our direction, she exclaimed unabashedly, "There's my mommy and daddy," to anyone who would listen.
Eventually, the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" interrupted my memories as hundreds of graduating students entered the huge auditorium. From where we sat, my husband and I wondered if we would ever be able to pickout our daughter from among the sea of black caps and gowns.
"There she is," my husband said triumphantly as he spotted our daughter. Jumping out of our seats, my husband and I started waving our arms and shouting simultaneously until we had attracted her attention. And repeating the enthusiasm she had shown some 17 years before, we pointed a finger toward her, exclaiming unabashedly, "There's our daughter," to anyone who would listen.