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AURELIUS — Andy Lasher spent a part of his summer building a small, functional catapult. 

Andy and his classmates built the device during a six-week Extended School Year program at Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES this summer. A total of 127 students in the program — which helps children with disabilities maintain their skills while school's not in session — were spread out among 17 classes. Each had a different theme, such as decades, superheroes and farm animals. The students displayed their work, including decorations and snacks that fit their theme, at a showcase at the BOCES building in Aurelius Friday.

Helen Day, the lead teacher for the special education program, said it allows the students to go over reading, writing, mathematics, crafting and more while having fun. She said students also went on field trips to destinations such as Emerson Park and the Auburn YMCA-WEIU during the program.

Andy's class was themed after medieval times. During the summer program, the students made cookies in the shape of items such as swords and shields, and wrote about medieval characters they created. The catapult the students made was displayed at the open house event, and Andy said helping make the device was his favorite part of the program. 

"You learn how to use tools and build out of wood," he said.

Teacher Ryan Brunelle and class therapist Rob Thomas said neither of them have a lot of natural intuition toward building things, so they learned alongside the students while creating the catapult. Andy said that when they first tested out the catapult, a rope broke. He said he used coping skills Thomas taught him to get through that frustration, such as staying there and helping instead of walking off. Brunelle and Thomas said they were impressed with the students.

Teacher Jason Gagliano, whose class theme was international cultures, such as Australia and France, said he believes the positive environment of the program helps students retain information. 

"It gave the kids the chance to see different things and have fun while learning," he said.

Student Devlin Wilkins-Mince chatted up a storm at his class booth, based on science experiments. Wearing a purple lab coat with stickers in the shapes of a fire truck, tiger, monkey and more, Devlin confidently talked about the activities the students did, such as an egg-soaking experiment, where they looked at the effects of various acids on eggs. When exposed to vinegar, for example, an egg's shell becomes rubbery and smooth, Devlin said.

Teacher Tina Watkins said Devlin normally isn't very talkative, but proudly noted that he explained the experiments to people at the showcase in great detail. Watkins said that throughout her years in the summer program, she has seen various students who had tough school years become "these smiling faces" by the end of the six weeks.

James Murnock, teacher aide for an animal-themed class, said the students became more comfortable with him and the program over the summer.

"They started flowing into themselves," he said.

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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