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Special friends.

Super Kids started as a way to involve children in the idea that all kids have the same basic needs. Kids just need to be kids! They need space to play, learn, have doubts and develop their own interests and opinions. Super Kids also have rights! They have the right to choose their own friends, to speak their minds, to have BIG dreams and to blossom and grow. Children also know that there are lots of ways to communicate. You can communicate with others without even saying a word. Communication can be sign language and body language, too -- like what you say with tickles and laughter or tears and embraces. Super Kids taught children that "if just one person believes in you hard enough and long enough, you can learn to believe in yourself."

Super Kids was the brainchild of my son's teacher, Donna Steer. Sammy is eight years old and a student in her class. He is blind, hearing impaired and uses a few basic signs to communicate because he has poor verbal skills. Many of the kids in his class are like him: they have multiple disabilities, mental retardation or behavior problems. Nonetheless, they are part of everyday activities in the school. They eat lunch with their peers who are not disabled, have physical education and playground time together and participate in joint musical activities and assemblies.

During the year, the special education classes have "special friends" or peer tutors who come in throughout the day to help the children with their IEP goals or other hands-on activities. Many of the children have special friends to assist them with their wheelchairs, at lunchtime carrying trays or outside on the playground equipment. The children without disabilities have come to be more that peer tutors -- they have become friends. Several of the children with disabilities have been mainstreamed into regular classrooms for part of the day. The other students without disablities have realized that their special classmates are not so different in ther educational and emotional needs.

The Super Kids idea came to Ms. Steer after she saw the success of a play done last year for Earth Day. The Earth Day show had an environmental theme, and the children all sang songs about cleaning up, recycling and saving the whales. The children with disabilities were paired with their special friends during the musical numbers (to help them around, prompt with lyrics, etc.). Behind the scenes all the children worked together on the props and rehearsal of the songs. The wonderful teamwork and popularity of the show with the students and their parents led to the production of Super Kids.

Ms. Steer began to work on the play as soon as school started because she knew some of the students in her room would need extra time to learn any new songs or dances. But she didn't plan on the contagious atmosphere that began to surround the Super Kids project. She enlisted the help of the teachers who already had children mainstreamed in their classes and encouraged their ideas. The fourth- and fifth-grade teachers and the resource teachers also helped manage the rehearsals and backstage activities. The sixth-graders were the stage crew. Caryn White, a special education teacher who teaches a pre-school class for children with multiple disabilities (also housed at the school), acted as musical director. She helped locate appropriate music that was fun to sing and choreographed the program so that it would include children who had motor or mobility problems. In looking for just the right music, the resource teacher came in to assist: her husband wrote the music for the song, "Big Dreams." All the while the school's principal, John Guess, was supportive and encouraging. He must have recognized that the project was good for school spirit and morale.

The problem of finances had to be faced early on. Funding came from the PTO, local businesses owned by parents of some of the children and the local chapter of the Association for Retarded Citizens. Matching t-shirts were printed for all the children in the show with a brilliant blue Super Kids logo on the front and the sponsors' names on the back. A boom box was purchased for rehearsals and to enhance the school's sound system. Special friends rehearsed every day after school with the special education students. The children painted signs and decorations for the show. By late November the kids were ready to perform for their parents.

Opening Night

Opening night was very exciting for me. Many folks came up to me, telling me their child had talked about Sammy, or they had seen their child demonstrate Sammy's signs. They all seemed to be very proud of their kids for being so accepting and interested in their classmates with disabilities. I was a little surprised at how comfortable I felt that evening, seated with those parents. Tonight my son was just like theirs. We were all looking forward to seeing the show we had heard so much about.

The introductory number was great. It was the Super Kids theme song and the children sang about being super heroes who wear super capes and fly across the sky -- they do "super deeds" and help out the universe and always save the day. The following numbers were very amusing and touching as well. Before a song called "Communicate," a young lady appeared in the spotlight on stage and said, "Communication is an important part of friendship. Our special friends communicate in many different ways. They use signs, gestures and words that are difficult to understand. Over time, they have learned to be patient and use their hands and voices to let us know their needs, and we have learned to listen -- not just with our ears but with our eyes and our hearts."

They did a rendition of "This Little Light of Mine" and a song called "Who Has Got the Right?" During this part of their act, children came to the front of the stage and held up a sign or announced something they had the right to. One girl said she had the right to "be free." A boy said he had the right to "choose my own friends." Another girl had the right to "say no," while another boy said he had the right to "be myself, man."

Sammy and his special friend held up a sign that said, "I have the Right to Sing and Dance With My Friends." A child in a wheelchair was rolled out by his special friend and together they flashed a sign that read, "I Have the Right to a Good Education." At the moment, as I heard the audience cheering and clapping around me, I felt myself well up with tears.

Big Dreams

Next came a song called "Big Dreams." For this part of the show, the kids were asked to share their dreams for themselves and their friends with disabilities. Sammy's special friend, C.J. Clish, said he dreamed of "inventing a video game for blind kids and that Sammy will play my game." As they sang "Big Dreams," the lights were low, and above the stage a slide show was projected onto a screen. The slides showed the kids rehearsing and making props, holding hands, laughing and dancing, and working really hard to get the show just right. At the end, the Super Kids slowly came out onto the stage in groups and sang about believing in yourself because someone else believes in you. As the children filled the stage, their familieis applauded and whistled. The teachers and principal were given a standing ovation.

I was so proud of all of them. I was proud of the teachers and the principal for having the guts to undertake this kind of show since integration is still a "new wave" idea in our school system to some . . . I was proud of the kids for just naturally catching on and realizing that they could learn a lot from kids like Sammy, just as he could learn from them . . . I was proud of their parents for not balking at the idea of their children learning, playing and eating in such close proximity to children with disabilities, some of whom were pretty severely impaired; instead of being afraid, they just let their kids go ahead and have the experience.

What About Next Year?

I must admit a fleeting pessimistic thought crossed my mind as I stood there clapping and smiling. I couldn't help but think, "This won't last! What about next year? He'll go on to a new classroom and the teacher may not be so enlightened or the kids so open-minded and warm." But I quickly brushed the thought aside. I could live on the joy of this moment for a long time! I just needed to have faith that people could consistently be this wonderful -- they just needed the opportunity.

What an opportunity Super Kids has given us all. When the word spread about the show, staff from other schools called to inquire about it. From some of these calls, Super Kids got invitations to perform at schools around the district. Even administrators from the central office made a point of going to some of the performances. Everyone has loved it. How could anyone object to a play so positive and inclusive of all children? The highlight of the year was when Super Kids got to perform at our State Department of Education's annual Least Restrictive Environment Conference. The show was seen by teachers, principals and special education supervisors from all over the state.

The Super Kids project will continue next year. They will have to scale back because of the amount of extra time the show has consumed and the cost of supplies, travel and shirts for the new children. Ms. Steer feels sure, though, that the enthusiasm for the show will be there because the kids just aren't getting tired of it! As for what the children have learned this year, Ms. Steer says, "The children without disabilities have come to believe that children with disabilities can not only participate in all activities but have something very special to offer. The children with disabilities have learned to work and cooperatively with their peers and they have known the joy of having friends who love and believe in them. Perhaps that is the first step in believing in themselves."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:mainstreaming project
Author:Cardoso, Pamela
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Previous Article:The Ridgmar Neighborhood Association.
Next Article:On display: your child is being humiliated.

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