Teens Acquitted in Pudding Puzzler When Culprit Comes Clean

Brandon is amused by a witness's statement.

Jurors were just about to deliver their verdict when a cry of “Wait! Wait! I have evidence!” rang through the courtroom.

Crystal Anderson, food production manager at St. Mary’s Home, had something important to show Judge Mercedez, the jurors and spectators: a video from the crime scene that would prove the innocence of defendants Brandon, Nathaniel G. and Patricia and bring the case of the purloined pudding to a dramatic close.

The trial was the culmination of a school exercise that helped St. Mary’s students in the classrooms of teachers Erin Keech, Kim Curll and Nichole Watson practice the writing process during the month of January.

The students were given a fictional scenario: The children and young adults who live at St. Mary’s were getting ready for bed when suddenly, there was a loud crash. Staff ran to the Atrium to investigate and found brown tracks, a tray from the kitchen and some empty chocolate pudding containers on the floor. Following the tracks, they discovered a few more empty pudding containers and a small cup that used to be filled with milk.

Isaiah's witness statement.

The students were assigned roles based on the scenario and given tasks, such as writing witness statements. The exercise taught them to select a topic or event and use drawing, dictating or writing to compose a message about it, use technology to produce and publish writing, and select a text and write an opinion about it, incorporating one reason to support the opinion.

Then, on Jan. 31, students and staff assembled in St. Mary’s Atrium (also known as District Superior Court). Students whose disabilities make it difficult for them to speak pressed buttons on their communication devices to play recordings of their written statements. Occasionally, the judge had to press her own device to admonish the crowd: “Order in the court!”

Carrington, a star witness for the prosecution, pointed out that Brandon had been on his way to get some pudding for Amelia. But defense witness Koko countered that Brandon would not steal chocolate pudding because his favorite flavor is vanilla. Isaiah added that Brandon is too noisy to be a thief, and then, with a big smile, joked, “I am guilty,” causing the courtroom to erupt into laughter.

Nathaniel G. observes the proceedings.

Brandon suggested that Isaiah actually did take the pudding because he saw chocolate pudding on Isaiah’s sneakers, while Nathaniel defended himself by explaining that he was asleep when the pudding went missing. Patricia was unable to attend the trial and therefore was tried in absentia.

So, whodunnit?

The jurors, including Terry Lyle, principal of the school at St. Mary’s, needed only a few minutes to deliberate. But before they could announce their decision, Anderson ran to the front of the courtroom with her surprise evidence. The video showed Anderson pushing a food cart into the Atrium, accidentally knocking some pudding onto the floor, then scurrying off when an announcement summons her to another part of the building.

Crystal Anderson, who manages the kitchen at St. Mary's, had a confession.

“I was so busy rushing around that day … that I dropped the pudding,” Anderson told the court, adding, “Thanks for taking the rap for me, Isaiah.”


See more photos from the court proceedings on St. Mary’s Facebook page.

Learn more about the school program at St. Mary’s here.

Congratulations, St. Mary’s Class of 2011

Principal Terry Lyle presents Josh with his diploma during the commencement ceremony in St. Mary’s Atrium. 

Friday was a day to celebrate Josh and Maurice, two young men who live at St. Mary’s Home, and to reflect on how far they have come as they prepare for their future.

“For most of us, living is relatively easy. We get up in the morning and get dressed and drive to work,” special educator Judith Green said during her keynote speech at the graduation ceremony for St. Mary’s Class of 2011.

“For Maurice and Joshua, it is not easy,” said Green, director of Southeastern Cooperative Educational Programs, or SECEP. “They have struggled to live, they have to depend on others, and they have fought hard to get where they are today.”

Every child and young adult at St. Mary’s attends classes, either at the Home through a partnership with SECEP or at Norfolk and Virginia Beach public schools. Graduation signals the end of formal education for young people who are 21 or will turn 21 in the next year. Currently, young adults must find other living arrangements, such as group homes, before they turn 22, although St. Mary’s is planning to open an adult wing in 2012.

Families, guardians, staff, friends and other residents gathered in the Atrium for this year’s ceremony, which began with four of the younger children presenting colors and also included a video tribute featuring photos of the two graduates through the years.

The caregivers and teachers who knew the graduates the best shared a bit about them. “You haven’t really experienced St. Mary’s until you’ve met Maurice,”  who loves to sing and dance, said teacher Kimberley Curll; as if to prove her point, he smiled and vocalized and gestured exuberantly through much of the ceremony.

Nancy Bryan gave the family tribute. She said her son Josh has been a blessing and has  taught her to “learn to appreciate the small victories.” She also thanked the staff at St. Mary’s Home for taking good care of him.

Before the keynote speech, St. Mary’s CEO William C. Giermak noted that Green is retiring this year and said the Home was honored to have one of her last official acts be to speak at commencement.

Earlier Friday, the teaching staff presented Terry Lyle with a paver in her honor to celebrate her 10th anniversary as principal of  SECEP REACH (Raising  Expectations and Abilities for Children with Complex Health Needs). The paver has been placed along the walkway at St. Mary’s entrance.

Sports Center

Friday was a different kind of casual day at St. Mary’s Home. SECEP’s Spirit Week at St. Mary’s Home finished up with Sports Day, a chance for SECEP and St. Mary’s staff to show off jerseys and T-shirts from their favorite teams/schools/athletes:

Carmen Gerena, executive assistant to the CEO

Danielle Hunn, SECEP liaison

Karen Roberson and Vette Muriel, teaching assistants

Teaching assistant Lauryn Harris, teacher Kim Curll, teaching assistant G. Reed

From left: teaching assistant Josie Eberhardt, teaching assistant Denise Boone, teacher Gay James-Parson and teaching assistants Carmen Perry, Nichold Price, Concetta Pisa and Adriana Gibbs 

Reelin’ in the Years

Today was Blast from the Past Day, part of SECEP’s continuing Spirit Week. Folks at St. Mary’s Home reached into the back of their closets — in some cases, way back — to dress up to represent various decades.

The 80s seemed particularly popular:

Tom Dvorak, St. Mary’s facilities department

Suzanne Eason, supervisor of occupational therapy support services

In some classrooms, there was a mix of decades:

Teaching assistant Martha Robertson (50s), teaching assistant Nichold Price (70s), teacher Teresa Anderson (70s) and teaching assistant Stephanie Nixon (80s)

And then there was the 40s, as in 1540s: 

Larry Phillips, occupational therapy technician

The Cat’s Pajamas

SECEP’s Spirit Week at St. Mary’s Home continues. Today, people got a chance to be really comfortable. It’s Pajama Day, as demonstrated above by teaching assistant Carmen Perry, teacher sub Adriana Gibbs and teaching assistant Kimberly Ferebee.

Even principal Terry Lyle showed off her robe and slippers:

Click here to see some of the getups for Crazy Hat Day yesterday. And congratulations to Denise Boone, teaching assistant, who won movie tickets for her fabulous crazy hat.

Mad Hatters

It’s Spirit Week at St. Mary’s Home, courtesy of the folks who run the school here, Southeastern Cooperation Educational Programs. As you can tell from the picture above of teaching assistant Denise Boone and Shanyla, the theme for today is crazy hats.

A lot of people are getting in on the act:

Debbie Rhoads, occupational therapy technician
Vicki and Dr. Larry White, neurologist at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters

 Karen Whitfield, certified nursing assistant
Shirley Justice, active treatment coordinator

Words Matter: Take the Pledge

Lauryn Harris and Nichole Hayes know how painful it is to hear people toss around derogatory slang terms like “retarded” and “retard.” Their little brother lived at St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children, which cares for children and young adults with severe physical and intellectual disabilities.

So they took the pledge. Have you? 

Today is End the R-Word Day, part of Spread the Word to End the Word, an ongoing campaign by Special Olympics and Best Buddies International to raise awareness about the hurtful effects of the “r-word” and encourage people to pledge to stop using it.

To call attention to the cause, Lauryn and Nichole proudly wore their “Spread the Word to End the Word” T-shirts to work today. They, and their mother, Mary Harris, all work at t. Mary’s Home as teaching assistants, through Southeastern Cooperative Educational Programs (SECEP).

That’s Lauryn at left in the photo and Nichole at right, with their mom in the middle.(Mom’s T-shirt was on back order, but she made sure to wear her “I Pledged” sticker.)

For more information, and to take the pledge, click here.

Gotta Dance

Carrington doesn’t use her right hand very often. She mostly relies on her left hand to reach out or pick things up. But today was different.

She smiled, gleefully shouted “Yeah” a few times and waved her right hand in front of her as she watched the Silver Tappers twirl, kick and shuffle across St. Mary’s Atrium.

The other children, plus teachers and staff, who filled the Atrium were equally delighted.

The Silver Tappers is a nonprofit dance company made up of women age 50 and older. Directed by Rita Joyner of Virginia Beach, the women have been taking dance class together for several years.They donate their time and talent to help charitable organizations.

The group has a total of 15 members. Nine women, including Joyner, performed today at St. Mary’s. Their average age? 70.

Carrington meets Rita Joyner, director of The Silver Tappers, as Terry Lyle, principal of the school at St. Mary’s, looks on.

Happy Hauntings at St. Mary’s Home

Folks at St. Mary’s Home tend to take holidays very, very seriously, and Halloween is no exception. This year, the celebration on “Spooky Friday” was bigger than ever, filled with fun and educational activities.

Staff competed — fiercely — in a contest to decorate all four of the children’s living areas, turning the neighborhoods into a 50s diner, a haunted house, Alice’s Wonderland and Oz, complete with a yellow brick road.

Children, staff and teachers dressed up in costumes and paraded about the Home, an annual tradition organized by SECEP. St. Mary’s Home partners with Southeastern Cooperative Educational Programs to provide individualized education programs for residents. SECEP’s REACH (Raising Expectations and Abilities for Children with Complex Health needs) Program offers educational services to students with severe to profound disabilities who live at St. Mary’s Home.

Also Friday, children took part in sensory activities, such as carving pumpkins and touching “guts” that just may have been spaghetti, with help from St. Mary’s evening activities staff.

New this year: Children used adaptive switches to plug into SECEP’s Spooky Room so they could independently activate games, lights and a slideshow with spooky pictures and sounds.

WVEC-TV, Norfolk’s ABC affiliate, covered some of the goings-on. Victoria asked reporter Joe Flanagan to pose with her for a photo, and he graciously obliged.