TC Even though some of the participants could not speak, thei smiles said a lot.
The Carroll County Education Center for children with disabilities had its annual spring program yesterday in the activities room of the Westminster school.
This year's theme was "Growing Up Great," and the prekindergarten through intermediate classes performed skits about professions.
"We have specific units we do, and we rotate," said Robin Shamer, a music teacher who organized the program. "Whatever is the last unit is the theme for the program."
The children dressed up -- as nurses, artists, investors -- and clapped and danced along to songs about their jobs. Some students sat in wheelchairs decorated with posters and signs. Students who weren't in the program sang along from the audience.
The program was open to parents and friends including Ann Thompson, a teacher at Freedom Elementary School in Eldersburg and 28 fourth-graders from her health classes.
"The fourth-graders have been studying disabilities and handicaps," said Mrs. Thompson, who has been teaching at Freedom for 21 years. "They [the Education Center students] have made two trips down to our school, and we thought that we would come here."
The idea of bringing the two groups together grew out of the friendship of Mrs. Thompson and a speech therapist at the Education Center, Anne Niedzielski. Ms. Niedzielski's son, Stephen Knipp, was a student in Mrs. Thompson's class, and the two teachers worked together to organize a way for the children to get acquainted.
"It has been a really good experience," Mrs. Thompson said. "First they came [to Freedom] and we made valentines. The second trip we played basketball with one of the boys.
"At first, the kids were frightened and they expressed that, but once they worked with them [the disabled students], they fell in love with them and wanted to be friends."
Ms. Niedzielski agrees that it is important for the children to be exposed to each other.
"If they are with them from the time they are little kids, when they become adults they won't be afraid of people with disabilities," she said.
Helen Ranke, 10, a fourth-grader at Freedom, pronounced the program "neat."
"I like this," she said during a skit with a student dressed as a chef.
"I like listening to the music and seeing how all these kids perform their parts so well," said David Snyder, a 9-year-old fourth-grader.
"We're enjoying this a lot," agreed Matthew Beall, 10.
Parents also said they were pleased with the show, which was the result of Mrs. Shamer's incorporation of music, arts and language to teach the students.
"I like to see the kids encouraged to do as much as possible," said Donna Lentino. Mrs. Lentino's daughter, Andrea, 9, has been in two other spring programs.
"I also like to see the kids enjoying themselves. My daughter's having a blast watching her friends," Mrs. Lentino said as she held her youngest son, Michael, 5, who came to watch his sister perform.
"They work hard here," said Carol Muller, whose daughter
Amanda is 13 and has been a student at the center since she was 4.
"If it wasn't for the center, I don't know what we would do," Mrs. Muller said. "Mainstreaming is nice, but when the kids have severe problems or can't talk, it's good to have a place where they can be protected."