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A lesson in checks and balances

As the third quarter ended at River Ridge Middle School, new doors of friendship opened for Renee DiVincent's 6th-grade math class.

"For nearly eight weeks, our class took part in what we call the "checkbook unit," said Mrs. Di Vincent. "We simulated real-life math experiences like job applications, interviewing, budgeting, housing, shopping and banking. Students learned financial responsibility and how to become informed, discriminating consumers. The unit brings relevance to the math skills students must master such as, percentages, fractions, budgeting and accounting as well as basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. We even had a grocery store and a bank with working students. "

To help the pupils further understand their place in the community, Mrs. DiVincent and her pupils visited the Center for Independence, a Pasco facility that helps developmentally disabled individuals reach their full potential through training and work.

The middle school pupils gave a presentation to show and tell the Center's enthusiastic audience about the check-book unit. They also prepared math-related entertainment, games, tricks and exercises that amuse while they teach.

"We're here to explain what we did this semester," said 12-year-old Sara Bennett. "How we learned to apply and interview for different jobs like teachers, firefighters, bank tellers, police officers, grocery clerks and airline attendants."

"We really liked doing riddles with the people here, like the shrinking quarter trick," added math student, Alyson McKendry. "Here's how it works," she explained as she demonstrated. "You cut a hole traced from a dime in the middle of the paper . . . too small for a quarter fit through. Then you fold the paper down the middle of the hole and put the quarter in and . . . there! It drops right through!"

Her audience responded with cheers, applause and curiosity. The kids sat down and explained how the trick works. Once they got it, and tried it for themselves the audience became even bigger fans.

"I liked learning how to do that neat trick," said Gail Hamer who attends the center. Gail is blind and couldn't actually see the quarter drop through the slot, but enjoyed it immensely it anyway. "I just love tricks . . . and these kids," she added with a big smile.

"Here's another fun trick," said the Kisha Williamson as her partner, Kelly Evers demonstrated a trick called Which Hand. "You put a dime in one hand and a penny in the other," said Kisha. "You can show the audience but not your partner. The object is to identify which coin is in which hand. To do that, multiply what's in the right hand by 4, 6, and 8, and what's in the left hand by 3, 5 and 7. Add the answers together and tell the sum to everyone. If it's an odd number it's in the left hand, an even number's in the right hand."

Center members watched the pupils' every move, to keep track of which hand and figure out the answers. When the girls revealed how the trick works, the audience applauded and shouted their approval. They asked them to repeat the game.

"I like the number tricks," said Virginia Coppolo, who is learning skills of independence at the center. "I like everything, but I like the people best."

"Me too," chimed in Nancy Hanrahan, who also attends the Center and enjoyed having the children visit.

The pupils also toured the workshop where the disabled adults perform jobs contracted by community businesses. Numerous workers were busy performing some not-so-simple tasks, like putting together a shelving unit.

"We assemble lots of things for area companies here," Rich Pugsley, the Center's resource specialist, told the kids. "Repetitive work is always best, like mailing projects, or putting together lamps, wall units or racks. We also do work for Pasco/Hernando Community College and St. Leo College. Our people, whom we refer to as "consumers," love their work. Best of all, it gives them an opportunity to earn a paycheck and become more independent. Who wouldn't want that?"

On the other side of the room two middle school boys, Leroy Oaks and Nick Ciampoli, huddled around Center trainee Dennis Picnich, who was showing them what he learned about the computer.

"I would like to show them what I can do on this computer," Dennis said shyly." Now I can do my own checkbook, even my own shopping and my own budget, too."

The pupils smiled and watched in appreciation at all that Dennis had accomplished despite." It was fun doing the magic tricks today because everyone here really enjoyed the games," Nick Ciampoli said. "But the best is, I made a new friend . . . Dennis."

Picnich smiled and nodded, and the boys understood that the feeling was indeed mutual.

If you go

The Center for Independence is a private, not-for-profit organization. They rely on donations and work assignments from the community to help their constituents achieve independence. The Center provides services to children and adults from all areas of Pasco County. If you'd like to help, money is always needed. Send your tax deductible check to The Center For Independence 5532 Auld Lane, Holiday, Fl. 34690-2203. Or call Rich Pugsley at 1-800-472-2823 for more information.