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Field trip of dreams: Special-needs kids get in-house look at Georgia

LAWRENCEVILLE - Students at Oakland Meadow School sat in a canoe at Okefenokee Swamp, played with sand at Tybee Island, looked at butterflies at Callaway Gardens and listened to records at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon - all in the span of two hours Wednesday morning.

The Lawrenceville school, which houses students with severe and profound intellectual disabilities, created an in-house field trip featuring several Georgia destinations. Because many of the students are in wheelchairs, it would cost too much to take a field trip; school buses can only accommodate two children in wheelchairs.

"We wanted to bring experiences to them," said teacher Caroline Whitten, who organized the event along with occupational therapist Amanda Buono.

Before starting their journey, students received a driver's license and a bag from the Welcome Center containing a fan, a map, a magazine and brochures of all the places they would visit.

"We're going to use our imagination, and we're going to go on a trip all around the state of Georgia," Whitten told a group of students.

Each destination was designed to give students a multisensory experience, Whitten said. Occupational, speech, vision and hearing therapists accompanied the children to help them make the most of their journey.

"The wealth of instructional materials available to us from this activity is absolutely incredible," said Suzan Pattillo, who provides itinerant vision support.

The in-house field trip contained so many activities that the biggest challenge was figuring out how to visit everything in one day, Pattillo said as she worked with students in a computer lab featuring programs that allowed the children to explore attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola and Zoo Atlanta.

Teacher Mary Roche said students enjoyed the activities, particularly the one featuring music.

"Most of our students, I don't really think, get to travel much," she said.

Many of the students are medically fragile, making it difficult for them to be out in the community for long periods of time, Whitten said.

Oakland Meadow's student population spans ages 3 to 21, and all of them will experience the field trip, assistant principal Deborah Beckman said.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to explore portions of Georgia that they're not able to go to because of their disabilities," she said.