Play brings together students with disabilities and their able-bodied peers

    Acting, singing and an education in being kind to others are all part of a Philadelphia student production.

    Students from HMS school for children with cerebral palsy and from Germantown Friends School come together for a project called “Something Magical” that has a 30-year history.

    Sometimes, getting the lines out is tough. A little boy in a wheelchair is trying to chime in for the production’s finale, but he can’t manipulate his communication device to make the appropriate sounds. Sitting at the piano, director Andrea Green keeps the music going, and continues to encourage the boy.

    But really, this musical production called “The Other Side of the Fence” is as much about process as it is about product. It’s a way for disabled and able-bodied students to connect and learn about each other’s lives.

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    Each student from Germantown Friends has a stage partner from HMS school. They are in wheelchairs, some can’t speak.

    During the first rehearsals, students tend to be apprehensive, says Mindy Olimpi Zucca of HMS school. They are shy, and they don’t know how to act around each other. That changes as they practice their lines and songs together.

    “Then you see kids with their arms around each other, bringing each other gifts, joking around, getting in trouble, having to be redirected,” Zucca says.

    As the rehearsal continues, 10-year-old Brenden is bending over his partner Skyler’s communication pad, which has rows and rows of pictures and phrases that Skyler can point to. Brenden is trying to communicate with Skyler.

    “I asked him if something was wrong, and he said yes, so I’m trying to figure out which row it is in, so I can help him,” Brenden says.

    Germantown Friends teacher Theresa Maebori says she often hears from students who participated in this project many years ago. One student recalled the impact of making friends with kids with disabilities.

    “From that moment, she changed, in that she will never look at a person who might have a physical difference in the same way,” said Maebori.

    In a time when schools and parents are so concerned about bullying, Maebori says this program teaches students to be protective of others who might be made fun of.

    The performance takes place Saturday at 2 p.m. at Germantown Friends School, 31 W. Coulter St., Philadelphia.

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