When the Franklin Learning Center (FLC) performed “The Christmas Adventure of the Space Elves” on Friday, there were as many smiles on the faces on stage as there were in the audience.
As the lights went up on the stage and the blue curtain parted, Kathleen Coen of Waynesboro, Pa., craned her neck trying to catch a glimpse of her 14-year-old daughter Rachel.
Rachel was part of the FLC Chorus. The minute Coen spied Rachel sitting in her wheelchair, a huge smile spread over the proud mother’s face.
“This is something that she can do. There are very few things that she can do,” Coen said.
She said her daughter uses a wheelchair, speaks very little and can’t walk or use her hands.
“It’s nice to see her happy and excited,” Coen said.
The FLC offers classes for special needs students, diagnostic evaluation, psychological evaluation and services, itinerant services, therapy services, homebound instruction, and vocational services for students three to 21-years-old, according to the organization’s literature.
This year’s production sprang from the imagination of Stephanie Salisbury, FLC music teacher, to use the book, “The Christmas Adventure of Space Elf Sam,” and modify it into a stage performance.
As she put together the production, Salisbury carefully considered each of the 155 FLC student’s unique abilities when creating the annual performance.
“It all becomes a real collaborative effort of all the therapists, teachers, assistants all working together to determine what the child needs to participate,” Robin Kendlehart, FLC Supervisor of Special Education, said.
“The Christmas Adventure of the Space Elves,” told the story of a group of Santa’s Elves who deliver toys to children to far off parts of the galaxy.
But, one group of space elves were given a special mission to travel to Alpha One. As three space elves Roxanne Davenport, Cody Geyer and Kendra Massey attempted to complete their toy mission to Alpha One, their space ship was detoured to other magical planets such as Pirate Island, Planet Dog Biscuit and Planet Rainbow.
During the spaceship’s time on Dog Biscuit Island, the students donned costumes to look like dogs and belted out, “Who Let the Dogs Out.”
“Our children have so many abilities, and when you see a child such that we serve, some people only see the disability. We see the abilities and parents try very hard and this is almost a visual of all that our children can do,” Kendlehart said.
Whenever Aidan Bergquist, 8, of Greencastle, Pa., performs, the entire family comes to support him.
Aidan’s parents Eric and Dawn as well as his three sisters Evelyn, 13, Erica, 11 and Addyson, 4, gave the performance rave reviews.
“It was great,” said Eric Bergquist. “It was really funny.”
The kids work really hard, said Dawn Bergquist.
“It’s a really nice way to start our Christmas season,” she said. “It’s nice to see all the kids.”
His sisters said Aidan seemed to really enjoy performing.
“I like seeing all the kids out there doing something. It seemed like they really liked being on stage and singing for everyone,” Evelyn said.
Chris Preisler of Chambersburg retired from the FLC three years ago after 22 years, but she still returns to the school for the annual Christmas performance and for graduation.
“I come for the kids. I like to see how they’ve changed and to see how they’ve grown,” she said.
She said the annual holiday extravaganza is important for the kids and the parents.
“This might be their only opportunity to ever be up on stage,” Preisler said. “It’s a lot of work for the teachers and the assistants and for Stephanie (Salisbury) to put it all together, but it’s worth it.”
It means the world to the parents just seeing the kids up on stage, she said.
“These children won’t have that opportunity (to perform). If they get up there and cry - that’s fine. They are up on stage. More than anything the parents appreciate seeing them up on stage and participating,” Preisler said.