At Friendly High School, handicapped students from all over southern Prince George's County are given the chance to be their best.

The school -- which has a student body of 1,755 students -- offers a program for 23 students with orthopedic handicaps, such as being confined to a wheelchair or special braces and walkers. A handicapped student in Prince George's can attend any high school in the county, but many choose Friendly or a similar program in the northern part of the county at Parkdale High School.

These schools offer the students accessability with elevators and ramps to accommodate their wheelchairs and with special programs, such as adapted physical education, as well as the on-campus services of an occupational therapist and a physical therapist. They also have special desks, bookholders and writing instruments.

Officials at Friendly emphasized that the handicapped students must learn to relate and function in the non-handicapped world, so they are integrated completely throughout the building.

About the only difference between the handicapped student's day and a non-handicapped student's day is participation in a special physical education class. Here the handicapped students participate in athletic programs such as volleyball using a balloon, wheelchair basketball and a version of hockey that is played with a soft puck and adaptive sticks.

"The emphasis of the program is so positive," said junior Kristy Yates, who has cerebral palsy, a disability caused by a lack of oxygen at birth to the part of the brain controlling arm and leg movement. Yates gets around the halls of Friendly by using a wheelchair. "The students and the instructors are always helpful and if they become overbearing in their assistance you just tell them you can handle it by yourself," she said.

Yates is shopping for colleges. "I would like some day to come back to a school which has orthopedic students and become a counselor. I think I am more aware of their special needs."

Friendly's orthopedic program also addresses problems students will face after high school. The school's counselors actively seek out colleges that are accessible to the handicapped and agencies that will help the students find full- and part-time jobs. "The total thrust of the program is 'you can do it yourself,'" said Friendly occupational therapist Jan Chalkley. "We aren't here just to do things for students, we're here to help them do things for themselves. There is an air of independence with these kids in the orthopedic program."

Senior Francie Catteron is one of the self-sufficient students that Chalkley described. Catteron is a reporter for the school newspaper, a four-year veteran of the orthopedic wheelchair basketball squad and a statistician for the Friendly High basketball team. She is already making plans to attend the University of Pittsburgh this fall.

"I have been 'mainstream' since the fourth or fifth grade," Catteron said, referring to the policy of sending handicapped children to school with non-handicapped children. "High school is very important, the last step before you're on your own. I think the program is crucial because it teaches you to work within society."

Sophomore Stephen Faller said, "I do not think I am that different from the other students except for the fact I leave classes five minutes earlier to use the elevators. And I use an electric typewriter to take notes. It's correctable so I don't make that many mistakes."

Faller, who has cerebral palsy, said he doesn't think about his handicap much. "I think if I worried about it I wouldn't have time for anything else," he said.

"If a student is capable of going to class in a mainstream environment, he should," said Friendly Principal James Buffington. "I have seen students without any arms or legs attend this school and still function rather well. There is no reason a student in a wheelchair or on crutches can't come and contribute.

"The non-handicapped students also learn a lot. They come to the point where they see handicapped students as kids who just get around in a different way," said Buffington.

"To stick these kids all together in one classroom would produce an artificial enviroment," said Theresa Smyth, a reading teacher who sometimes instructs the handicapped students. "Each student has different needs. Some are advanced. Some are very average. If you lump them into one classroom there are students bound to be losing out."

The handicapped students play an important role in helping the other students understand life, officials and students at Friendly said.

As an example, Chalkley said, "Elevators can't be used during a fire so we've a special fire evacuation team which would carry the kids in wheelchairs out of the building in an emergency. We needed 15 kids for the program, but 75 volunteered."

Senior Renee Harding echoed that sentiment. "The handicapped students remind us of what we should be thankful for," she said. "I have a handicapped friend here who wants to be an actress, the same as me. She has a lot of confidence. And she inspires me to have the same."