COLUMBIA — John Rodgers’ smile was almost as bright as the red paint he was putting on a T-shirt. The 18-year-old was so excited that he did not notice the paint had gotten on both of his arms.
“I can take care of that,” said Jeff Glenn, owner of the Missouri Cotton Exchange, as he reached for a towel. “Everyone else, coats off and sleeves up.”
Rodgers was one of 10 students from the Delmar A. Cobble State School who were painting T-shirts for the school’s upcoming Challenge Day on Tuesday.
“We like to have the Challenge Day rather than do the Special Olympics,” said Jennifer Bowen, home school coordinator for the school. The Columbia school serves students ages 5-21 whose needs cannot be met in a regular public school setting.
This year, the event is called the “I-63 Showdown” because the Delmar school, as it’s called, will compete against Kirchner State School in Jefferson City.
Schools such as Kirchner and Delmar are a part of Missouri’s State Schools for Severely Handicapped. The students have challenges such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and mental retardation. Enrollment in a state school is ultimately up to the parents, Bowen said. The Delmar school has 41 students now.
Back at the Missouri Cotton Exchange, the field trip is just the beginning of the excitement for the students.
“Each classroom also gets to make a car out of cardboard and then everyone will race at the end of the Challenge Day,” said Linda Day, president of the Parent Teacher Organization and the mother of 17-year-old Paige, a student on the field trip.
After Rodgers finished painting his shirt, one of the cotton exchange staffers put the shirt on a cooling rack. A matter of seconds later, the shirt had passed through the conveyor belt system and the shirt, its paint now dry, was warm to the touch and ready to wear. Delighted, Rodgers pulled the shirt over his head and began showing it off.
“I don’t know who gets the bigger thrill out of this — us or them, but it’s fun to see the faces,” Glenn said.
This was the Delmar school’s second of three field trips to the company this week. Before they left, Rodgers was allowed to paint two shirts for students who could not make the trip. “Whoa!” Rodgers yelled when he found out.
The Missouri Cotton Exchange often opens its doors to schools and day camps for field trips. “It’s a lot of fun,” Glenn said, “and it’s good P.R.”