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Boonsboro buddies learn about disabilities

September 28, 2000

Boonsboro buddies learn about disabilities



By KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer


e's a good reader," said 8-year-old Laurin Smith of her friend, Kellen Weeks.

"He can type really good on the computer," said Amber Morris, 8.

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Laurin and Amber are Kellen's "peer buddies" in Nikki Bowers' third-grade classroom at Boonsboro Elementary School. They applied for their positions by writing a paragraph explaining why they would be good for the job. Laurin said she is patient and responsible. Amber, who said she has a brother "just like" Kellen, likes to help people.

They write down his homework assignments. Sometimes they push his wheelchair, Laurin said. They help Kellen, but they also enjoy being with him. "He's very funny," Amber said.

Kellen, 7, recently was classroom manager. He was line leader and took the lunch count to the office, Bowers said. "We pride ourselves on respect," Bowers said of her class.

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Despite needing to use a wheelchair, and problems with communication, Kellen is very much a member of the class. "Every child is special and unique. You focus on the ability," Bowers said.

She recently had all the students take off their shoes and trade them. Other kids' shoes didn't fit.

"Everyone is different," Bowers said.

Principal Melissa Warren believes it's important for Kellen to interact with other children and important for other children to interact with him. "We all aren't the same," she said. Learning about differences helps us understand and accept those differences, she believes.

IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is the federal law that entitles a free and appropriate public education for all eligible school-aged children. The law, which has been amended several times, was enacted in 1975.

The changes in special education have been a continuous progression over the years. Children with special needs will become more productive adults if they have more and broader opportunities to learn in the real world, said Pat Kurtz, special educator at Boonsboro Elementary.

Kids with special needs are not just stuck in a classroom, said Kurtz. They each have an individualized education plan. They are in classrooms with other kids for some of their learning. They receive individual attention in areas where they need different kinds of instruction.

The peer buddy system also is operating in Dionne Martin's fifth-grade classroom. Jessica Kilpatrick, 10, is one of three students who are Joshua Harris' peer buddies. Joshua, 12, has Down syndrome. Jessica wanted to be his buddy because she likes to help - and it's fun, she said.

Joshua and Jessica recently teamed up and spent a class period as buddies to first-grader John Lowery, part of the regular buddy system pairing kids in Martin's class with the first-grade students Jason Darr teaches. The classes get together about once a month. The kids were interviewing and learning more about each other, writing down answers to questions, drawing pictures about things they like to do. Joshua said he likes to play "ball" - that's basketball - with his dad and his big sister, Sarah.

Joshua progressed from grade to grade at Boonsboro Elementary with a different group of students for three years. Those students moved to middle school this term, but Josh's parents and teachers decided he would benefit more from another year in fifth grade.

Joshua had to get to know the students in his new class, and they had to get to know him.

"It's just heartening to see the friendships begin," Kurtz said.

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