PEOPLE'S natural instinct is to shy away from those who are different. Often, we choose not to notice the wheelchair or the mentally challenged child. Society can unwittingly shut these individuals out from mainstream life. Fortunately, there are members of the community who are willing to reach out and make a difference.
La Pietra students take time
to share their favorite things
with children who have
By Nancy Arcayna
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Each year, the students at La Pietra -- Hawaii School for Girls host a "special guest day" in conjunction with their children's fair. Here, they come face to face with children who have special needs.
"We do the special guest day to give something back to the community. And, so that the girls are more aware," said Sandy Robinson, student dean of La Pietra.
According to art teacher Linda Strong, "The girls gain compassion as to what these kids with special needs are really all about.
"We have kids who are hyperactive and some that are wheel bound. Others have slight learning disabilities, vision or learning impairment," she said.
The day before the fair opens to the public, busloads of special-needs children arrive at the fair grounds. La Pietra students are paired off with the children on a one-on-one basis. "They have their own personal guide to take them through the attractions," said Robinson.
Advisory groups comprising teachers and students create game booths, mazes, an obstacle course and entertainment for the children's enjoyment.
The fair is so popular with special education teachers that participating schools need to be rotated each year.
"Our kids really benefit from the fair," said Meiko Wada, a special education teacher at Jefferson Orthopedic.
The special day is needed because the isolation experienced by many special-needs children means they may be intimidated by huge, fast-moving crowds or other children who may gawk. They could end up feeling self-conscious and overwhelmed, Wada said.
"The games at the fair are geared for young kids. They feel successful because they always win," she said.
"When the kids are playing games, the girls naturally know how to accommodate them. My kids are physically handicapped. They are even able to enjoy pony rides which are a rare opportunity for them," said Wada.
The La Pietra students are proud of their project, a schoolwide effort for the all-girls school. Robinson said they learn everyone is blessed in some ways and we need to acknowledge that.
The contact with special-needs children has sometimes launched the girls into special-education careers.
"It's nice to appreciate (the fair) through the eyes of someone younger," says Sarah Amos, a 12th grader at La Pietra. "It's such a great thing to see the smiles on their faces."
"The kids get pleasure from the littlest things, like looking at the fish in the pond ... and things that we take for granted. It's fun to see them enjoying the games we played as children," added 10th grader Tran Phan.
The petting zoo is also a great experience for the kids. Last year, a turkey roamed about, but because it spent most of the day eating all the plants on the grounds, the faculty decided to try a llama this year.
A variety of activities, including magic shows, storytelling, arts and crafts and games, are also featured. A tricycle court is set up to accommodate children in wheelchairs.
"Their guides push them around the course and through the tunnels," says Robinson.
The music teacher entertains the keiki in the courtyard with songs and games while the girls picnic with the special guests and present mementos for everyone to take home.
"My favorite part of special guest day is when they send you a card. It's really touching because even though it is a simple card, they remember you and what they did at the fair," said Rachel Albert, a 12th grader.
"It definitely gives you a respect for those in the special education field," says Amos. "They are so sweet and caring and don't get frustrated with the kids."
Ninth grader Chandra Shih added, "It makes you feel good about yourself when doing something good for someone else. And, it really brings out your patience."
"It is a tiring day, but when the girls finish, they really feel what it is like to be responsible," Robinson said.
Some of the girls even maintain contact with their partners. One senior still keeps in touch with the child she was partnered with in sixth grade.
"It's nice for them to feel this kind of link," Robinson said.
What: La Pietra Children's Fair, "A Few of Our Favorite Things"
Date: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Place: La Pietra -- Hawaii School for Girls, 2933 Poni Moi Road
Cost: Free; nominal fees for various activities
Note: Complimentary shuttle service from Kapiolani Community College
Click for online
calendars and events.