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Baseball game provides Ridge Ruxton students valuable lessons

A young man swung the bat and knocked a big green rubber ball onto the gymnasium floor at Ridge Ruxton School, in Towson, Thursday, followed by cheers.

"Look at that independence!" one of the baseball game's announcers said.

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Although the game employed the usual ball, bat and four bases, its goals were broader than merely winning or losing. The object of was to teach the students of Ridge Ruxton School crucial motor, communication and social skills that will allow them to build independence outside of the school and the classroom, said the school's principal, Ed Bennett.

Ridge Ruxton is operated by the Baltimore County Public School system for students who are developmentally delayed, intellectually limited, autistic-like and multi-handicapped.

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The school serves students ages 3 to 21, who live in the central, northeast and northwest portions of the county. Its goals include providing a safe learning environment for students in educational, vocational and community settings, as well as providing individualized education. Enhancing communication skills and maximizing opportunities for independence in adult life are also part of the school's mission.

Baltimore County operates two other schools for similar student populations, Battle Monument School and Maiden Choice School.

The game Thursday at Ridge Ruxton was specially adapted so that all students could play, Bennett said.

It started with the playing of the national anthem. Classes took turns playing against each other as, one by one, each student stepped up to the plate to take their turn with a large orange wiffle ball bat. Most students hit the green rubber ball off a tee, some with assistance. The Baltimore Orioles mascot, the Oriole Bird, also paid a visit during the game, delighting the school's 120 students.

Assistant Principal Kyle Martin and teacher Scott Bishop served as the game's announcers, cheering for the students' accomplishments — such as when one student chased down the ball and put it back on the tee, following the directions of teachers and assistants.

"Wonderful following directions! Nice job!" the announcers said.

Some students were assisted in wheelchairs or used walkers to move around the bases and the field during the game. The game's emphasis on physical play was designed to build the students' motor skills, Martin said. Participation in the game also helped to sharpen students' social and communication skills, such as listening and waiting, he added.

Teaching communication is important, so that students can learn to articulate their desires and choices and thereby further their independence, Martin and Bennett said.

The same is true of the students learning to work with others, the administrators said.

"One of the biggest things for our students, when they graduate, is really looking at their ability to perform in a group," Martin said. "All of our classes are pretty small; [the game] really gives us the opportunity to see how the kids perform in that large group setting."

The game also allowed students to interact with a wider variety of students and staff than they normally would on an average day at Ridge Ruxton, Martin added.

"It's the opportunity to interact with the staff and each other in a different way," he said.

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Bishop, who teaches adolescents, teens and students as old as 21, said that seeing his students' positive reaction to the Oriole Bird was rewarding. He also liked seeing everyone get a chance to play. His students have very involved cognitive and physical disabilities, he said, and most don't have use of their arms. But with assistance, they played baseball Thursday.

"It's a great opportunity, with assistance, to do something we all take for granted," Bishop said.

"These are real-life experiences," Bennett said.

The Bird's visit presented students with an up-close chance to experience a piece of culture that will be more prominent as October and major league baseball's playoffs approach, said Betsy Neville, chair of the Department of Special Education at Towson University.

Headed into the playoff season, students are likely to see more excited fans sporting black and orange in public. The Orioles Bird visit will help them connect the mascot with baseball, and that connection will help them socially, Neville said.

The more students have access to experiences such as baseball and the Orioles, the more they remember and understand those cultural items, Neville said.

Experiences are "crucial for students with disabilities in helping them better understand their world," she added.

After the game, the Bird shook hands with students and stood for photos with assistants and teachers.

Beck Matthews' 13-year-old daughter, Raven, who uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal, has attended Ridge Ruxton for three years. The students love it when they have a visitor, such as an entertainer, the Oriole Bird or the Baltimore Raven's mascot, Poe, said Matthews, of Rosedale.

"It takes them away from their everyday routine," Matthews said. "When something like the Oriole Bird comes to see them, it's a big deal."

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