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November 24, 2002

Douglas Byrd students get chance to horse around

From: Fayetteville Online, Fayetteville NC - 24 Nov 2002

By Aesha Duval
Staff writer

Nieisha Paul smiled as she brushed the hair of a pony named Mandy.

Nieisha, who is 13, is deaf. She had never seen a pony up close before, only in books and pictures.

"I like the hair," Nieisha said through her interpreter, Karen Conquy. "It feels smooth. But she smells funny."

About 100 exceptional children at Douglas Byrd Middle School learned about horses and ponies on Wednesday. Each pupil had the opportunity to feed, pet or brush the animals.

"The difference between a pony and a horse is how big they get," veterinarian Kim Krivit told the pupils.

Douglas Byrd Middle School has about 150 pupils who are hearing impaired or who have trainable, severe or profound mental disabilities.

Mary Hagofsky and Angela Whitman, the school librarians, wanted to do something special for those children.

"We have a lot of exceptional children at our school, and they often get left out of school activities," Hagofsky said. "For one time in their lives they should be envied in our school."

Hagofsky invited Krivit, of North Star Equine in Parkton, to bring a horse and a pony for the pupils to interact with. The activities took place under some trees at the back of the school.

Teachers also took turns reading stories about horses. Many of the pupils will write about the event in class.

Tommy Washington, one of the teachers, said many of the pupils had never seen the animals up close.

"This is positive stimulus for them," Washington said. "It gives them the chance to interact with and pet the animals."

Washington said some of the pupils who have behavioral problems also learned to be patient and wait their turn.

One of Washington's pupils, Shatare McNeill, who is 13, was afraid to touch Charlie, a horse, but she quickly warmed up to him.

Fourteen-year-old Rommie Baker, who is hearing impaired, laughed as he fed sliced apples to Mandy. "The tongue felt like it had hair on it," Rommie said.

Gail Pruitt, special education coordinator at Douglas Byrd Middle, said many people often don't know how to interact with exceptional children. She said activities involving animals improve cognitive skills.

"It helps them get a grasp of what's real," Pruitt said.

Hagofsky said the pupils were excited about seeing and touching the animals. She said she looks forward to doing similar activities again for the children.

"They have so many problems, and they're still winners," Hagofsky said. "If they don't win your heart, then nothing will."

Staff writer Aesha Duval can be reached at or 323-4848, ext. 280.

Copyright 2002 The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer