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NEW YORK — When Shania started third grade at P.S. 148 last fall, she was thrilled to be back at the Queens public school. An outgoing eight-year-old, she said she was happy to be among her friends again, and she had loved her class the previous year. Her second-grade teacher would take the time to explain tricky topics like addition and subtraction one-on-one. She had even been named “student of the month.”
A pair of giant tiger eyes stares down at a dozen teenagers zigzagging around the gymnasium of Wilson High School in Northwest Washington.
The teens, 10 boys and two girls, dribble soccer balls around multicolored cones, following the instructions of their trainer. They’re breathing hard, but the air conditioning is a respite from the heat of the outdoor basketball court, where they spent the morning. Their cheers and laughter reverberate off the gym’s walls, which are emblazoned with images of the school’s feline mascot.
Polk Emerson is mute. He cannot go to the bathroom by himself. He frequently runs away from caretakers, sometimes into the street. He is 19, but has the mental age of an 18-month-old, according to evaluations by specialists. He attends year-round a private facility for students with special needs in Pennsylvania.