Field Trip Creates Learning Handicapped Kids Open Students' Eyes

Article excerpt

Four-year-old John Clark, who has cerebral palsy, had chocolate

on his mouth as he smiled at some Mandarin Middle School

seventh-graders who helped him make sweet treats from cookies,

chocolate icing and Hershey's Kisses.

"Why are you all at my school?" he asked from his electronic

wheelchair.

The seventh-graders from teacher Jane Feber's gifted English

class were on a field trip to the special education wing at

Mandarin Oaks Elementary School. They made treats, talked with

students and teachers and asked questions as part of their study

unit on handicaps and disorders.

"It's not polite to stare, but we came to learn more, to find

out what's wrong," said Mandarin Middle student Sean Regan. "It

gives us a new understanding for kids with handicaps and teaches

us that there's nothing to be afraid of. They are the same on

the inside."

For the middle school students, the unit has been an

insightful, interesting way to learn about research, literature

and life. For exceptional education teachers and others living

or working with disabled people, it's a step toward desperately

needed public awareness.

"People are intimidated by handicapped people and don't know

how to interact," said Beth Dollar, occupational therapist at

Mandarin Oaks.

Jackie Woodard, resource support coordinator for the ARC

Jacksonville, formerly called the Association for Retarded

Citizens, is impressed with the handicap study unit. She said

she'd like to see more schools copy it to increase exposure to

the disabled population, which is in dire need of more services

nationwide.

For example, ARC, which provides services for the disabled, has

350 on a waiting list.

"These kids [Mandarin Middle students] will go on and graduate

and become taxpayers, voters, senators and governors and may be

more willing to support agencies," Woodard said. …