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Student graduates from Carroll Springs School, where he once took his first steps

As Paul Smith Jr. prepared to graduate from Carroll Springs School, his teacher and the instructional assistants who work with him decorated his classroom door and his seat with banners and balloons to celebrate. On Thursday afternoon, he was looking forward to a pizza party in school.

Smith’s family celebrated him at a ceremony Thursday night in the Scott Center auditorium of Carroll Community College.

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He was part of the post-secondary program for students who have passed 12th grade. Smith, 21, has been a student at Carroll Springs since 2004, when he was 6 years old. The school is where he took his first steps.

Carroll Springs School is a day school for special education students and those with multiple severe disabilities. Educators focus on job and life training skills and fostering independence. The school serves students up to age 21.

Paul is nonverbal and uses a Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display customized with symbols that represent words and ideas.

“He’s a pretty simple, easygoing kid,” said his teacher Audrey Moore.

His mom Missy, who also works as an instructional assistant at the school, agreed. She said he’s content to travel with his family and rarely complains about anything.

“He’s a very laid-back guy. He’s been like that since he was born,” she said.

Though Missy is not an instructional assistant in Smith’s classroom, the pair sometimes spend recess together.

Instructional assistant Susan Hrast has worked with Smith since he was in middle school. She said he’s been a pretty consistent presence.

Most people who know him agree that Smith has a special passion for food.

“He’s a mile-high member of the clean plate club,” instructional assistant Andrew Brklich said. He especially enjoys sweets and Italian food like pasta. He’s not usually picky, but he really hates cucumbers.

In the kitchen at the school, he uses switch access to operate appliances like blenders during lessons. He has worked jobs that include working in the food pantry, sweeping and shredding documents. He also helps make deliveries throughout the school.

His family regularly visits the Eastern Shore, and Smith enjoys activities that let him spend time in the water and the sun. When they visit the boardwalk in Ocean City, he likes to check out the sights and sounds, his mom said.

Nick Shockney, director of special education, was the keynote speaker at the graduation Thursday night. A slideshow of pictures of Smith from his childhood up to now were a part of the ceremony, and the school presented a gift to his parents.

It has been a busy week for the family. Smith is the second-youngest of six, and his brother also graduated this week. They’ll have a graduation party for friends and family soon.

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Brklich said that as much as Smith doesn’t like to do tedious tasks, he has worked hard and will probably enjoy having some time off after graduation.

Moore hopes that he will enjoy continuing to explore out in the community and having new experiences.

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