The playgroups at the Childhood League Center look like those found anywhere else in the city, and the children participating look just like any other group of children in the preschool age group.

The playgroups at the Childhood League Center look like those found anywhere else in the city, and the children participating look just like any other group of children in the preschool age group. In fact, anyone observing them may not even think to wonder, "Which are the special-needs children and which are the typically developing children?" And that's just the beauty of it. A staff of 48 - including teams of teachers, occupational, speech-language and physical therapists, family service specialists, nursing services, and a child and family therapist - ensures that each child at the center, regardless of their unique needs, passes on from it ready for kindergarten, confident in their abilities and enthusiastic about learning. The results are remarkable. Five-year-old Aviva's parents were told by her doctors she would never be able to walk. But, with her plucky determination to do what the other kids in her group were doing, and with a lot of love and support from her parents, teachers and physical therapists, Aviva earned a standing ovation at her preschool graduation last spring by walking across the stage to receive her diploma. A fellow group member, Sidney Schmaltz, was commended by her kindergarten teacher this year for her interpersonal skills and compassion. Her parents, Heather and Brock Schmaltz, chose to place her and her younger sister, Audrey, in the center for the experience of interacting with people from many different backgrounds. "Education is not just about learning numbers and letters - it's also setting the stage for social interactions for the rest of their lives," said Mrs. Schmaltz. "We decided that not only could they get the preschool fundamentals at the center, but they also could interact with people who might not look or act like them. That's not something you can teach, and we wanted our girls to have that experience." It is uncertain how many lives actually have been touched by the center's programs over the years - not only have those of the children been enriched, but many of them also have gone on to careers in the early childhood education, psychology and medical fields as a result of their interaction, said Barbara Acton, executive director. "We believe that all children are born with an innate desire to connect," Acton said. "It is natural for children to want to be loved, and also to give love."