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A rare day for special pupils

An arts fair honors the achievements of students with disabilities.

By JOEL POILEY
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 24, 2002


CROSS CREEK -- Nine-year-old Kaneal Jones saw a rat with red eyes that bit its own tail.

Eight-year-old Hershel Jackson envisioned himself as a horse who could give kids piggyback rides and munch junk food all day.

For 250 students from Pride, Hunter's Green, Clark and Chiles elementary schools, anything they could imagine was possible at Friday's Exceptional Students Education Arts Festival.

Hosted by Pride and created by Pride principal Tanly Cabrera, the event was a memorable day for prekindergarten students through the fifth grade.

Students and volunteers participated in eight handson activities ranging from sand art and roller painting to making picture frames and decorating cookies.

Planned since the beginning of the school year, the fair was designed to honor the achievements of students with emotional, physical and learning disabilities.

"We wanted to make them feel special," said assistant principal Jamie Dunnam, who coordinated the event with Pride ESE specialist Cynthia Babzien and representatives from each school.

"We celebrate diversity. Those children are very much a part of our school culture, and we wanted to make sure that every exceptionality would be able to participate. It's their special day, where they know no one else in the school is participating in this."

Each of the schools has different special education programs. Hunter's Green has a physically impaired unit, Pride has autistic and language-impaired children, Chiles has emotionally handicapped students and others with specific learning disabilities, and Clark has language-impaired and early learning disabilities students.

Friday's event included entertainment from the University of South Florida Dancers and Crystal Porter Puppetworks. Musician Donna Wissinger used a flute to perform science experiments, and entertainer Alan Darcy encouraged students such as Kaneal Jones to paint through music interpretation.

"I try to get the kids to draw what they're feeling so we get them to open up their imagination," said Darcy, who visits schools as part of the district's Artists In the Schools program.

Parents and ESE teachers from other schools volunteered, as did Sickles and Wharton High Key Club students. Singh Rasile and Minoo Mostafavifar are juniors in the social issues club at Wharton who helped students with dressup costumes and picture-taking."

"It was a great opportunity to help out with the kids that you live with in the community and give something back," Mostafavifar said. "The look on their faces is incredible."

All of which made for a memorable day for Hershel Jackson, a Chiles student who was impressed with the horses on display from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

"This was pretty good," he said, proudly wearing his Art-lympics T-shirt. "It would be great to be a horse and play with kids and eat the same food every day. I would love that."

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