Ryan King learned to walk. Taisha Hart learned to use her hands. Aminata Bangurah learned to say "daddy" and to give a hug.
Such accomplishments were celebrated yesterday when 10 preschoolers graduated from the Enrichment School for multiply handicapped youngsters at the Hospital For Sick Children, 1731 Bunker Hill Rd. NE. The graduates, in white caps and gowns, made their way up the aisle to the traditional "Pomp and Circumstance," Taisha being pushed in her wheelchair. Cameras flashed and the proud, tear-stained faces of adults looked down at the tops of small heads.
Effi Barry, wife of Mayor Marion Barry, and Susan Kidd, the WRC-TV (Channel 4) reporter who served as mistress of ceremonies, both blotted tears from their eyes as the children sang. It was time to receive diplomas, although no single piece of paper could begin to explain what the children had learned and how their lives had been changed -- forever.
"Amy can't talk, but now she can take your hand and show you what she wants," Henry Bangurah said of his 5-year-old daughter Aminata. "She couldn't go to the bathroom by herself when she came here two years ago. Now she can do that. She can do a lot of things she couldn't before."
For Aminata and her classmates, the Enrichment School, a special education program for children 18 months to 6 years old who have multiple handicaps, has been the haven where they came daily to learn the basics while receiving physical, occupational, speech and hearing therapy. Now they will be placed by the District public school system, some in mainstream classroms, some in privately run programs.
Yesterday, in a bright room where Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy curtains hung, they proudly demonstrated their talents. Graduate James Brown, who entered the school in 1985 with a speech impairment, stood with a younger Aisha Smith to greet the audience.
"Hello!" James said, perfectly.
"Hello!" Aisha intoned.
"Welcome!" said James.
"Welcome!" Aisha followed.
It was enough to set the audience chuckling and clapping wildly. Constance U. Battle, medical director and chief executive officer of the hospital, said all of the children represented "a microcosm of significant medical and cognitive gains that happen in this hospital every day. They have been taught to realize what others call limitations are small irritations and nothing to slow them down."
When the graduates sang "It's a Small World," Taisha, who can't pronounce words, smiled broadly and let out what sounded like streams of happy humming. When it was time for the wheelchair square dance, an instructor in western attire pushed Taisha to the middle of the room to join three other wheelchair-riding dancers and their teacher-partners.
"Salute your partner, one and all!" the caller bellowed. "First couple, roll your wheels but don't roll away!" While the audience clapped to a lively country tune, partners yelled "hee haw!" and children, particularly those in the wheelchairs, laughed.
The guest speaker, Dr. Beverly Coleman-Miller, a special assistant with the D.C. Commission of Public Health, congratulated each child by name. "Taisha, continue on with your battle," she said. "You're a very, very lovely girl."
Then while a teacher played "He's Got The Whole World in His Hands," Nadim Khan, the school's director of education, presented the diplomas. James Brown was first and he stepped up gingerly while the audience cheered. Taisha's mother pushed her up to receive her diploma, which Khan tucked under her arm.
"Some of their potentialities are yet undiscovered," teacher Mitzi Parks said. "Their talents differ in degree and kind, but talent is found in each and every child."