Christopher Burke, a first grader at Forest Knolls Elementary School in Silver Spring, was excited to be part of a school video, which pictured him joining with friends in a circle dance in music class.
But for Christopher and the other children in the video, learning the techniques of communication through film was not the only purpose of their efforts. The children producing "Handicapable Kids" are all orthopedically handicapped pupils who were seeking to show what they do at school, how hard they work, how much support they receive and how they fit into the school program. Through the video, they hope to share that information with children in other schools.
If only from Christopher's viewpoint, the film was a huge success. After the premiere for teachers and parents last week, he was so excited that he kicked up his legs and did what can only be described as a "wheelie" on crutches.
Of the school's 60 handicapped children, 43 participated in the video. The handicapped pupils have one or more physical handicaps that may involve hearing, vision, speech or the use of limbs, and the video was made to show others what they can accomplish despite their physical limitations.
Forest Knolls is a communication arts magnet school and the only county elementary school with a program for the orthopedically handicapped. Some of the advantages of the magnet program include a TV studio, computers in each classroom and an in-house radio show that airs each morning. Those things benefit all the pupils, according to Principal Carolyne Starek.
"It's one school, and everyone participates in the full range of school activities," Starek said.
As the videotape began, the shade was pulled down on the office door to indicate that the school radio station, WNOL, was on the air. The office was crowded with young broadcasters, some of them handicapped.
Brian Vankovitch, a fourth grader who cannot talk, made announcements with the aid of a computer that produced his speech. Shane Upchurch, 12, who has brittle bones that have incurred 93 fractures and who uses a wheelchair, is shown as the senior sportscaster and one of the video directors.
From beginning to end, "Handicapable Kids" lived up to its name, as success stories, large and small, unfolded from the classroom to the lunchroom to the playground. The video pleased not only the pupils but also parents.
"I was thrilled with it. That's our kid," said Shirley Upchurch, Shane's mother. She says that the video will be a wonderful teaching tool and will help able-bodied children understand handicapped pupils better and have more respect for them.
Susan Michal, magnet coordinator, gave the video stars a chance to speak to the audience after the show. Amanda Lay, a fifth grader, said that making the video was hard work, and she got a big laugh when she said that the retakes were "frustrating."
Amanda uses an electric wheelchair and does her work on an electric typewriter because she has limited use of her hands.
Her mother, Diantha Lay, commented, "It was a moving story and a powerful program for kids to put together." She says that it could be consciousness-raising because many people associate physical handicaps with retardation.
Second grader Cori Truesdale was pictured working with her speech therapist. When asked how she felt about the tape, her enthusiastic answer was "happy," and she flashed a big smile to her father Rusty.
Ben Miller, a second grader, wheeled to the front of the room to address the audience and went on with the poise of a seasoned pro. His mother, Barbara Miller, who said she was pleased with the video, expressed concern that it might make school life look too rosy. She said that more staff members are needed because the program is labor-intensive and that more computers are needed because the pupils are so dependent on them.
Magnet coordinator Michal, who was the guiding force behind the video as well as the filmmaker, said the idea for it grew out of a book that she wrote with her pupils to explain handicaps to other children.
Her pupils illustrated the book, and she wants to share the pictures with schools in a traveling art show.
The video has aired on cable TV in the county, and CBS has asked to see it, she noted.
"It's so exciting," she said. "Many people do things a little differently, but they get them done."