Students in Melissa Barry’s class at Carrboro High School spent the year getting to know their neighborhood.
They will share the people, places and history they found in Carrboro and Chapel Hill with a monthlong exhibit at the Horace Williams House in Chapel Hill. The “Sense of Place” exhibit kicks off with a opening reception Sunday, May 1.
The project started last summer with a visit to Preservation Chapel Hill to talk with then-program coordinator Cassandra Bennett, teacher Melissa Barry said. She also surveyed the students about their interests before and after the summer break.
Barry’s exceptional education class offers an individualized curriculum to six students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Teacher’s aides Erica Simon-Nobles and Carol Lawler, and student assistant Dorie Speer, a Carrboro High sophomore, help her provide one-on-one attention.
The class covers a different topic every year; students can keep attending until they are 23 years old and earn a certificate of attendance. The goal is to find something relevant to them, Barry said; next year, they might study government, since many of the students are eligible to vote.
They learn by doing, baking snacks to sell from their cart to teachers each week; the prices always change – 28 cents this week – so they practice math and how to make change. They also learn to sew by hand and with a machine.
Peer connections are reinforced through collaborative projects, sports and other school activities, while off-campus field trips, such as packing grocery bags each month for Meals on Wheels, link them to the larger community.
This year’s project took them on research assignments to a dozen historic places, from Johnny’s and Carr Mill Mall in Carrboro to Sutton’s, Merritt’s Store and the Phillips Law Office in Chapel Hill.
Funding was provided through a Strowd Roses grant, which let them buy iPad minis for taking photos and videos. Teacher Kay Johnson’s chorus and orchestra students also performed and recorded three historic songs for the exhibit.
The result will be a collage of art, history and music: colorful fish dangling from borrowed fishing poles to represent Johnny’s past as a bait-and-tackle shop, painted trains mounted on tracks made from woven yarn for Carr Mill Mall; and photos of favorite places in a display reminiscent of Sutton’s famous photos.
Lucia Maria Romano, 19, created a tray of coffee cup designs for the exhibit, representing the Carolina Coffee Shop.
“I like to draw,” she said. “I really like doing different art. I draw people playing soccer, and I also draw hearts, as well, and flowers.”
Max Van Name, 19, is the class historian, whether it’s classic movies, music, athletes or TV shows. The Carolina Inn was his favorite stop, he said, because that’s where you go to the prom with girls. He’s also a huge fan of actor Andy Griffith, who was discovered there in 1953.
“I’ve seen all his shows. I love them,” Van Name said. “I don’t watch the color ones, because they’re cheap, not great.”
They also worked with students learning to use 3-D printers in drafting instructor Jeff Arthurs’ class. Those students are printing the historic buildings to scale for a “lifesize” model of Franklin Street. Barry’s students are crafting more buildings from other materials to fill in the gaps.
Another model – a Lego floorplan of the Ackland Art Museum – was based on a copy provided by the museum, Aaron Persons, 21, said.
Barry said it’s critical that her students gain a sense of community.
“In the field of special education, their worlds can tend to be very small, particularly as the kids get older,” she said. “One of the things I take very seriously is that I believe very strongly that every one of us has a really valuable things to give to others.”
If you go
An opening reception for the “Sense of Place” exhibit is scheduled for 2-4 p.m. Sunday, May 1, at the Horace Williams House, 610 E. Rosemary St. in Chapel Hill. The exhibit will be on display through May 27.
The Horace Williams House is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.