Thursday, May 31st, 2012
The Washington Post has an article on a unit of the Young Marines that is dedicated to serving students with special needs. The Young Marines is a youth program that was founded in 1959 and now serves over 13,000 youth aged 8-18 nationwide with a focus on “character building, leadership, and promot[ing] a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.”
The unit that 1st Sgt. Vivian Price-Butler, an Iraq War veteran, leads is different from most other Young Marines units: it is composed entirely of students who cannot be accommodated in traditional schools.
Bob, a 16-year-old sophomore from New Windsor, has autism. Cornell, a 17-year-old junior from Glendale, has an intellectual disability. Other students have cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or brain injuries.
Price-Butler, known affectionately as First Sergeant around the Baltimore school, is not a trained teacher. Yet, 10 or 20 years from now, she is the Kennedy Krieger educator most likely to be getting e-mails and baby pictures from Bob and Cornell and the other Young Marines.
“I wanted to do something with my life,” Cornell said, “and I found this.”
The Young Marines curriculum emphasizes character and service. Price-Butler teaches about the military and its history, and about such values as obeying one’s parents and tucking in one’s shirt without being told. The group collects toys for needy children, sends care packages to troops, visits veterans hospitals and marches in parades and color guard ceremonies.
Cornell joined the Young Marines in sixth grade. Price-Butler works with both middle and high school students at Kennedy Krieger, giving the program a rare measure of continuity.
“Cornell had a pretty rough year in eighth grade, so it couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Sarah Wright, his mother. “He did not like being in the club at first, with the discipline, because it made him accountable. [Price-Butler] was a kind of person who did not take any flak.”
[… Price-Butler] crafts lessons with help from other Kennedy Krieger faculty. Serving her students means finding handouts at different reading levels and giving exams both orally and in writing. She teaches military terms in a game modeled on television’s “Jeopardy!” and military drills in an exercise akin to Simon Says.
“A lot of people think she’s strict,” Bob Nobles said. “But you just have to follow her instructions.”
Bob joined the group in the ninth grade. In December, he traveled across the globe with his first sergeant to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“One student ate only five things. One didn’t sleep,” Price-Butler recalled. One got food poisoning before the group had boarded the first plane. But the trip earned her fresh respect from parents.
“First Sergeant took five special-needs students on a plane to Hawaii, God bless her,” said Sharon Nobles, Bob’s mother. “When she speaks, these kids straighten right up and listen.”
Read the whole article here.