Tuning in to students who have special needs

Glenelg Country freshmen give of themselves, get a life lesson


With one hand splashing water in a tank filled with rubber ducks and with a sly grin on his face, Kevin Zhou couldn't have seemed happier.

For the 9-year-old pupil at Cedar Lane, a public school in Fulton for pupils with severe physical and mental disabilities, it was just one activity in a fun-filled morning on the grounds of the private Glenelg Country School.

And while it might have looked like a scene from any school's field day outing, the duck pond and other activities at the Glenelg Country's eighth Spring Fun Fair were also the culmination of an in-depth lesson for Glenelg Country's freshmen about mental disability.

In April, 75 Glenelg Country freshmen went to Cedar Lane, toured the school, met with the principal and talked with parents. The students did research and wrote papers about what they learned.

The freshmen used their research to develop activities for the 24 Cedar Lane students who attended the fair Monday.

"It gave them [the freshmen] a lot to consider," said David Weeks, Glenelg Country's civic leadership director. "They learned about mental retardation, the causes. It allowed the students to [develop] tactile type of activities."

Nicholas P. Girardi, Cedar Lane's principal, said the festival is much improved since it began seven years ago with four activities.

"They have tuned into the sensory needs of our kids," Girardi said as he watched his pupils participate in such activities as petting dogs and making paintings using animal-shaped sponges. "It's right on."

Cedar Lane pupils, such as Kevin Zhou, enjoyed the event, according to his teacher, Dore Anne Karnegis.

"He loves the outdoors," Karnegis said of Kevin. "He really loved petting the dogs. He was laughing and giggling."

The freshmen said they learned through the experience.

"I wasn't too sure about mental retardation," said J.T. Rohe, 15, who manned the dog-petting booth, a hit with the Cedar Lane youngsters. "Now I understand what they go through, and what their parents go through."

Mary Tucker, 14, worked at the "texture board" booth, which contained such things as a shoe insole, a piece of leather, several feathers and a pair of gym shorts.

"We got anything we thought they would like and [that would] feel interesting for their fingers," she said.

Bryan Arnold, a 15-year-old who also worked at the "texture board" booth, said that many of the Cedar Lane students are verbally challenged, so the use of other senses is important.

"They like the feel and touch of stuff," he said.

Sue DiPaula, a Glenelg Country parent, brought her two dogs to participate in the petting zoo.

"It's very important for high school kids to understand that there are kids that are different than they are," she said. "I've been impressed with the enthusiasm of the students from Glenelg and the reaction of the kids from Cedar Lane. They seem very excited to be here."


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