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House of horrors is learning center

Published Oct. 2, 2005

Ghouls howl and ghosts groan. A red-eyed monster comes to life. A pipe organ shrieks creepy music.

Cotee River Elementary School is haunted _ for now, anyway.

With the help of four students in his class, special-education teacher Todd Hilkene has transformed his room into a dark cave of eerie, ghastly delights.

The four students, all of whom have severe cerebral palsy, help Hilkene run the haunted house. By pushing buttons wired to electric fans, stereos and electronic voice boxes, the children make ghosts fly and scary music play. Hilkene invited the school's other classes over to tour the haunted house.

"This is a good way to bring them down here to meet our kids," said Hilkene, a second-year teacher. "Now, when they see them around the school, they recognize them and say, "Hey, there's Luke.'


Hilkene's room is decorated to the hilt. Sticky cobwebs hang low from the ceiling, catching in the hair of the guests. Giant construction-paper spiders cover the walls. Tissue paper ghosts float on invisible thread.

It took Hilkene about three weeks to get the room ready. It has been a hit as classes have been visiting almost non-stop all week.

None of Hilkene's students with cerebral palsy can speak, and all of them use wheelchairs. They communicate by pushing buttons on electronic voice boxes. They also have big, round plastic buttons that can be plugged into electronic devices such as stereos. When the child pushes the button, the stereo comes on.

As Halloween approached, Hilkene wanted to come up with an activity that would include the disabled children and get them practicing using their switches, too.

During the tours, the disabled students are draped in black robes and scary masks. As the other children pass by, Hilkene's students press their buttons. When student David Faupel presses his switch, a deep, devilish laugh rings from a plastic skull sitting in his lap.

Student Luke Kube presses his switch, turning on an electric fan. The breeze from the fan stirs the tissue paper ghost floating about him.

"We wanted to try to make Halloween fun for these kids and for the other students, too," Hilkene said.

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