When Stacy Mallick, 15, who is confined to a wheelchair, rolled off the Metro subway elevator at the Smithsonian station yesterday, she was smiling and chatting busily with her friends - also in wheelchairs - about their first ride on a subway train.
"The ride was really great," said Stacy, who completed seventh grade this month at Catherine T. Reed Elementary School in Landover. "I especially liked it when the train went underground through the dark tunnel."
Stacy was among 65 handicapped students - 27 of them in wheelchairs - who rode the Metro train yesterday from the Smithsonian Institution as a field trip of Camp Independence, a six-week summer program for the handicapped in Prince George's County.
Once the group arrived on the grounds of the Smithsonian, they spread blankets under large shade trees and had a picnic lunch before boarding the Metro for the ride back to the Rhode Island Station in Northeast Washington.
"During our summer program, we try to continue various physical, accupational and speech therapy that was started during the regular school year." said Paul Bolig, coordinator of Camp Independence at Catherine T. Reed, a public school.
"We also try to prevent an 'academic backslide' in special education students while they are out for the summer," Bolig said. "And we try to do things in which the kids can have a little fun."
The Metro field trip, one of six such outings planned for the children during the summer, obviously was one of the group's "fun" activities.
The youngster arrived at the Rhode Island Avenue Station in three yellow Price George's County school buses with special hydraulic lifts to accomodate wheelchairs.
After the buses were unloaded, the group of 65 students, accompied by 15 teachers, therapists and aides and another 15 volunteers, were given an orientation by a team of eight Metro employes who supervised the group's tour.
"This group really isn't that unusual," said Cleve Amos, transit specialist in the office of the Metro general manager for transit services. "In April, May, and June we have had about 2,000 elderly or handicapped riders tour the Metro. There has been another 31,000 students from the public schools."
The students who toured the system yesterday - most of them in wheelchairs or using crutches and with some wearing arm or leg braces - formed a line at the station elevators, which could carry only three wheelchair passengers at a time.
Over the next five weeks, the same groups is scheduled to take a field trip each Wednesday. They plan to visit Wolf Trap Farm Park, the National Portrait Gallery, the petting zoo in Columbia, Md., and ride on the C & O Canal - on rafts.
"I told the people who orgaize the raft trips that a lot of these kids are in wheelchairs," said Bolig. "But they told us to bring them on. They can handle it." CAPTION:
Picture, Michelle Harrison pushes Susan Godwin's wheelchair onto the elevator at the Rhode Island Avenue station., By Laura Levine - The Washington Post