This wasn’t a parade. Only eight kids were in it. And as many adults.
But when this group left Finley Road Elementary School and headed just a few hundred yards south down busy Cherry Road to a shopping plaza, none of the millions who watch Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving Day saw such joy of a walk down a city street like this walk.
Martha Compton’s class, the kids with special needs, were going on a field trip. The trip was not to the zoo, or to some museum. No school bus, or special bus that uses lifts for wheelchairs.
The trip was to the store.
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Because the grocery store is where people buy the supplies to make muffins, and this coming weekend is Mother’s Day. If kids with special needs want to make “Muffins for Moms,” the best way to do it is bake the muffins yourselves.
To bake takes money. Family Trust Federal Credit Union, in a grant that is so much more than a few dollars, gave Martha Compton, the teacher of these kids, the money for cooking supplies and ingredients. But to give kids a sense of independence, of giving to a mom who often has to do so much for a child who needs so much care, Compton thought it best to have the kids shop, too.
The problem seemed to be that some of these kids cannot walk. Others cannot talk.
“So what?” said Compton.
“So what?” said everybody else.
Compton called the Rock Hill Police Department, which happily sent two officers, including a guy named Sam Buchanan, who recently was named officer of the year for the whole city. Buchanan and another officer turned on sirens and blue lights, and the procession started just a few hundred yards from the school to the store.
What happened then was not a walk: A parade broke out.
People in traffic stopped. Cold. Nobody hollered and yelled and blew horns in anger. One old guy – he had to be 100 if he was a day – got out of his car, which certainly was a silver-gray 1990s model Buick Roadmaster that is the official car of all old men, took off his hat and bowed. He was five feet tall, maybe. He looked like a giant. He then clapped.
He got back into his car, and he wiped tears from his eyes.
Some other drivers waved. A few honked horns, happy honks – those short ones – and waved. The kids waved back as those who can walk walked down that new sidewalk. Those who need wheels rolled.
In the front, Ja’Erica Spratt waved and waved from her wheelchair just like any queen on a float.
Buchanan, the tough cop, a father, said out his open window: “Sure shows the rest of us how we better appreciate what we have in life, and our children.”
The other kids followed suit with waves. Hannah Cooper, Korie Daniels, Adre’onna Givens, Jeremiah Izquierdo, Tierra Jones, Heaven McCoy, Quinterius Mitchell, they all waved if they were able. Some cannot even wave. They sure smiled, though.
And each, if walking, held fast hands to an adult shadow – a chaperone. These adults smiled just as wide. Maybe wider.
“This is just plain great,” said Linda Call, a one-on-one therapist for autistic and disabled students for the Rock Hill school district, who didn’t seem to walk but float because she too was in a parade with eight kids who never get parades in their whole lives.
The parade turned left onto Heckle Boulevard – no sidewalks on this street because politicians, who sometimes demand sidewalks are built for real people on city streets, for years did not always make such demands. So Buchanan and the other cop blocked all traffic and the group stayed on the side of the road. A pair of little girls, maybe ages 2 or 3, waved from a car’s backseat and yelled out, “A parade!”
All the kids waved back. The adults waved back.
At the store on the corner, each student picked out items from a simple list with words and pictures. Each adult shadow – one for each child, a parent or teaching assistant, even a Winthrop student teacher named Lauren McClintock in the last act of her college life – sheer love for another person through a field trip for the students she soon will teach herself – helped pick out the items.
Quin Mitchell read his list, and there was never a prouder reader anywhere, ever. The grocery store workers stopped and smiled. A pair of ladies shopping held hands over their eyes and wiped away tears.
The kids picked out orange juice, muffin mix, cooking oil, apple juice, more – even the little muffin cups.
The kids, thrilled, went through the line. The total was $64.20.
Then the field trip marched about 50 yards to a fast-food restaurant. Each child picked out and paid for food looked up and taught over days and weeks, from worksheets held on clipboards. Each child had his or her name on the worksheet, just like the worksheet for the muffins. The kids who could talk ordered. Those who could not pointed.
“This is the best field trip ever,” said Dianna Moore, Jeremiah’s mom.
Then everybody ate, and the policemen came back and held up the traffic again for the walk of a few hundred yards to the school.
This week, these eight students and the teachers who help them will bake, and serve, muffins to the moms.
And each child will know, even if unable to say it, that all the work out of love to make those muffins, was theirs.