The curious kindergarten and first-grade students are fascinated by what Columbia teacher Kim Boyce-Talbot calls her "robot leg."
"They talk about it every day. They like to touch it," she said of the prosthetic device, speaking with an infectious smile that belies the years of pain she has undergone since being struck by a drunken driver in Canton in 1992.
Boyce-Talbot, 26, who survived the near-fatal accident and amputation of most of her right leg, will achieve another milestone tomorrow -- receiving her bachelor's degree in early childhood education during Towson State University's winter commencement.
"I'm absolutely thrilled. It's something I've always wanted," said Boyce-Talbot, who recently was hired as a teacher at the Love of Learning Montessori School in Howard County after completing her student-teaching assignment there.
She was especially pleased when a student gave her a candle in the shape of an apple as a holiday gift this week.
"This is my first apple as a teacher. This is so exciting."
A cheerful woman who does not dwell on her difficult recovery, Boyce-Talbot acknowledged, in a pensive moment, "It has been a struggle."
In an instant, she went from being an active 21-year-old student who enjoyed sports and her independence to spending months in the hospital, clinging to life and then slowly and painfully going through physical therapy.
She wears a prosthesis now but often relies on a wheelchair. Walking is difficult. Her left leg also was badly injured and her pelvis crushed that fateful July evening.
At the time, Boyce-Talbot was handing out promotional items for a beer company. She was gathering key chains and other items from a parked station wagon on Boston Street when Brian L. Yeager of Dundalk, driving a Volkswagen, pinned her between the cars.
"I saw the car flying down the street before it slammed into me," Boyce-Talbot recalled. "I felt everything."
According to police, Yeager, who was 21, failed a sobriety test minutes after the accident. In February 1993, he was found guilty of driving while intoxicated and reckless driving. He was sentenced to four months in jail.
In the aftermath, Boyce-Talbot -- who lives in Jessup with her husband, Joey Talbot, and two golden retrievers, Buddy and Lucy -- has become a spokeswoman for such organizations as the National Commission Against Drunk Driving and the Washington Regional Alcohol Project. She often talks to teen-agers locally and around the country.
"It's something that's so completely avoidable," she said of drinking and driving. "I'm not judgmental. I reveal I never was an angel."
The year after the accident was grueling, she said. When she finally returned to school, reality hit.
"I'd look out and think, 'That's where I played ball,' " Boyce-Talbot said. "It was difficult being in the same place in a totally different body."
She credits two TSU instructors -- Hunter O'Hara and Barry B. Frieman -- with helping her follow through with her dream to become a teacher.
"Hunter and Dr. Frieman made me believe I could do it," Boyce-Talbot said.
Frieman, her adviser and teacher, said: "With Kim, all odds were against her. She persisted anyway. She never quit."
Boyce-Talbot had difficult times when she cried, he said -- especially when people made insensitive remarks.
"Here's this woman who some said couldn't do playground duty and she does," Frieman said. "Even after agonizing rehabilitation, she gets on the floor. She deserves credit. I've been teaching for 25 years and never met anyone like her."
In the classroom Thursday, the unflappable Boyce-Talbot was surrounded by 12 children who constantly hugged her, asking questions and sitting on the carpet with her.
"She's a fantastic teacher. She's very calm, very understanding," said fellow teacher Awilda Torres. "She explained to the children what happened to her. It was good for them."
Sarah Hicks, 5 1/2 , spoke matter-of-factly about her teacher's injury. "People were saying Miss Kim had a robot leg. I thought that was different. But she needs it to walk," Sarah explained.
Later, Boyce-Talbot sat in a tiny cubbyhole that serves as a library and reflected on the past four years.
"I am so lucky compared to so many people in my situation. I had so much support, and it's something I'm so thankful for."
Pub Date: 12/21/96