There are probably no parents of new Howard County high school graduates with more mixed emotions this week than the parents of Mark Greenfield and William Kurrle.
In a county in which almost 90 percent of all high school graduates continue with some form of college, the parents of Mark and William have known almost since their sons' births that higher education would never be an option.
Now, with their graduation from Howard County's Cedar Lane School yesterday, Mark and William enter a world of great uncertainty, and their families begin a new struggle over how to care for their disabled sons for the rest of their lives.
"It's a very emotional day, but also a very fearful one," said Mark's mother, Sheila Greenfield, who lives in Columbia's Hickory Ridge village. "It's a fear of what is Mark going to do for the next 40 years, and even what he is going to be doing next year.
"The school system has been providing a very safe, very loving, wonderful environment, and now you leave that entitlement and begin to wonder," she said.
Mark and William were Cedar Lane's only two graduates yesterday, receiving Maryland High School Certificates of Completion in a tearful ceremony. Last year, six students completed Cedar Lane's program. Students receive the certificates and leave the school at ages 18 to 21.
Cedar Lane -- the county's school for students with severe disabilities in Columbia's Harper's Choice village -- has an enrollment this year of about 80 students ages 3 to 21. Its students generally have physical, developmental or intellectual disabilities to more severe degrees than the disabled students included in programs at regular Howard schools.
The school aims to help students develop the skills to be able to live and work independently, including offering vocational training. But some students' disabilities are too severe to reach that goal.
Mark and William turned 21 this school year, reaching the maximum age for which the school system provides special education services. They began attending Cedar Lane when the school opened in 1981, after attending its predecessor, the closed Scaggsville School, when they were 3 years old.
"It's a very sad day to see them leave," said Nicholas Girardi, Cedar Lane's principal. "We've worked with them for so long. Now we have to hope they can successfully make the transition out of Cedar Lane."
Despite years of preparation, no one expects that their transitions will be easy. Neither young man is able to speak, much less care, for themselves.
Mark was born with a very complicated form of Down syndrome as well as a seizure disorder. His youthful appearance and height of slightly less than 5 feet make him look 10 years younger than his age, his mother said.
William -- known to his family, friends and teachers as Billy -- was born with a severe seizure disorder that has not been cured by several brain surgeries, said his father, Fred Kurrle. The surgeries have left the right side of his body mostly paralyzed.
"This school has been such a good program," said Fred Kurrle, who lives in Hammond Village, just south of Columbia's Kings Contrivance village. "It's going to be tough from here on out."
In yesterday's graduation ceremony, Mark won the Cedar Lane PTA award in recognition of his "social growth and development," and William won the Cedar Lane High School award -- presented by County Council member Mary C. Lorsung -- for his "social growth and communication."
The 45-minute ceremony included a slide and video presentation of the growth of both young men and a song -- "Because You Loved Me" -- sung by 1992 Cedar Lane graduate Christopher Bingham. Mount View Middle School's band accompanied the graduation.
Both young men will continue to live at home and enter area day programs for adults with developmental disabilities. Mark will begin attending Ellicott Enterprises in Ellicott City, and William will begin attending the Caroline Center in Burtonsville.
"While I'm sad to see them go, I'm very happy they are set up in day programs," said Cedar Lane high school teacher Patricia Tyler, who worked with William. "We unfortunately have some students who complete Cedar Lane and wind up at home for a while, waiting for a spot somewhere to open."
Cedar Lane has helped Mark and William prepare for the transition, showing them their new centers and helping them get familiar with what will be their new surroundings.
"We've been helping Mark learn the skills for the work he'll be doing at Ellicott Enterprises," said Cedar Lane high school teacher Steve Kucey. At Ellicott Enterprises, one of Mark's paid jobs will be to pack toys into the tiny plastic bubbles frequently found in gum ball machines.
While Mark and William are expected by their families to do well in their new day programs, their parents realize that more care -- and long-term care arrangements -- eventually will be needed.
For example, at Cedar Lane, Mark began school at 8 a.m. and -- with an after-school care program in which he was enrolled -- his day ended as late as 6 p.m. His new program begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m -- prompting Sheila Greenfield, Mark's mother, to ask: "What are working parents to do during those hours?"
Residential programs for adults with disabilities can cost $40,000 a year or more -- with families generally being responsible for providing the funding, if at all possible.
"What do we do when both Mark's mother and I get too old to care for him?" asks Mark's father, Jim Greenfield. "That's what really scares me and scares the parents of every disabled child."
Pub Date: 5/30/97