MANCHESTER -- When the six students in Suprina Kolesar's class at Gossler Park Elementary School lined up behind the Thanksgiving feast serving table Wednesday, ready to serve their guests turkey and all the trimmings, Mayor Ted Gatsas didn't stand on ceremony.
He headed for the serving line, where the plastic-gloved students served the mayor, School Superintendent Debra Livingston and Assistant Superintendent Karen Burkush, along with parents and school personnel.
Keegan Roberge was in charge of putting turkey on the large paper plates. Standing next to him, Andre Walker carefully placed a mound, or two, of mashed potatoes on each plate. At the very end of the line, past the rice dish, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce and the hardly touched raw vegetables, Terell Thomas tried first to place a muffin on each plate using tongs. But after a muffin escaped the tongs and fell to the floor, Terell was encouraged to pick up a muffin with a gloved hand and place it on the diner's plate, which he did with a big smile.
Kolesar said the 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds in her third-, fourth- and fifth- grade special needs classroom spent a week preparing for the feast, talking about what they are thankful for and writing those things on special placemats, now laminated, that they and their guests would use for the feast and then take home.
Class members also decorated cookies with a lavish hand, which rested on plates, along with brownies and traditional pies, on a separate dessert table.
But before the meal was served and enjoyed, the students had something to say. Standing in an uneven row in front of their guests, they said what they are thankful for not just at Thanksgiving. "I'm thankful for my mom and dad," said more than one child. "I'm thankful for my class and my friends," said others.
The class also sang a song, whose verses were underscored with enthusiastic shaking of maracas by both students and guests.
"Never give up ... Gotta stick to it ... Gotta keep trying ... Never give up," they sang.
Kolesar thanked the parents, staff and former staff who were present. "There is no way we could do what we do without you," she said.
Paraprofessional Kathy Savoy watched proudly as the students served, then were served by the adults and joined their families at long tables, to share the Thanksgiving feast.
Savoy has been working with special needs students for eight years. "I have a passion for it," she said. "It's not a job. These are my kids."
Kolesar, who started at Gossler Park as a student teacher, is now in her second year as a full-fledged teacher there.
She said the students worked very hard preparing for the feast, as they do for everything else, including the homework they take home every night. Their academic work didn't suffer as the class prepared.
She said the class practiced hard for Wednesday's feast. "We stated the etiquette," she said, including napkins on the lap and proper use of the knife and fork. Another element is talking with your dinner companions, but not with a mouthful of food.
"They got the essential basics," she said, and they practiced and practiced. Kolesar said practice is essential to create habits for everyone.
So for everything they have to learn, she said: "I always prepare them."