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Great American Teach-In both educates and entertains

TAMPA — Don and Carol Larson came to the Great American Teach-In to tell Apollo Beach Elementary students what it's like to be a little person.

Each is 4 feet 2.

The children in Mrs. Bush's fifth-grade class were fascinated.

"Where did you two meet?" a student asked.

"In Reno, Nev., at a Little People of America convention," Carol Larson, 68, responded with a smile.

"Do you live a normal life?" another student asked.

"Yes," Don Larson, 74, answered. "We do everything anybody else would do, just sometimes a little differently."

The Larsons were among more than a thousand speakers to visit Hillsborough County classrooms as part of Thursday's teach-in. This year's guest list included everyone from bankers and pilots, to war survivors and the visually impaired.

Classroom discussions focused on potential careers and life in general.

"We invited the Larsons because we wanted to show the kids you can't judge a book by its cover," said Joanne Sudman, a speech teacher at Apollo Beach Elementary.

Throughout the county, speakers both educated and entertained.

At Mulrennan Middle School in Valrico, students pointed to a woman in a Disney polo holding a Mickey Mouse figurine.

"I love Disney!" a sixth-grader exclaimed.

In northwest Hillsborough, Sickles High School students met a WWE wrestling promoter and a professional opera singer. County Commissioner Ken Hagan visited Pride Elementary School. Robinson High School welcomed broadcast journalist Kim Fatica, and performer Herminio Munoz demonstrated break dancing at Pizzo Elementary School.

At Blake High School, athlete and fitness center owner George "G" LeGrande tried to inspire students to work hard and stay in school.

"We can't afford to lose another one," he said.

Back at Apollo Beach Elementary, students listened attentively as Don Larson explained his rare condition, mesomelic dwarfism.

His height has never stopped him, he told the children. He plays golf and bocce ball. He worked for more than 30 years as a technical illustrator and graphic artist. His company made a drafting table to accommodate his size.

"Growing up, I helped coach my schools' sports teams," he said. "I've traveled the world. I once held a world record in model rocket building."

"What kind of rocket? How high did the rocket go?" the boys in the class chimed in, instantly forgetting any difference between themselves and the Larsons.

"I have a model rocket kit at home and I tried to build one but couldn't make it work," student Jared Duckstein said. "If Mr. Larson can do rockets, that means he can do anything."

Lesson learned.

Times staff writers Jessica Vander Velde and Ernest Hooper contributed to this report. Sarah Whitman can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or swhitman@sptimes.com.

Great American Teach-In both educates and entertains 11/18/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 19, 2010 11:19am]
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