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Special-needs Chicopee Woods student is grand marshal of character parade
Edwin Molina, 6, enjoys trek dressed as James the Red Engine
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Edwin Molina, 6, makes his way down the hall dressed as James the Red Engine with his paraprofessional Haley Harrison during a Book Character Parade at Chicopee Woods Elementary School in Gainesville on Friday. Edwin is a student at the school who has cerebral palsy, but his teachers didn’t allow his wheelchair keep him from dressing up and being the main attraction in their Book Character Parade. - photo by Erin O. Smith

If you ask Edwin Molina the name of his favorite train, his face will light up in a smile.

The 6-year-old Chicopee Woods student loves James the Red Engine, one of the Thomas the Tank Engine friends. Edwin loves all trains, school buses and cars.

It’s tough for Edwin, who has cerebral palsy, to talk about how much he loves trains. But Friday, he got to spend the afternoon rolling up and down the halls of Chicopee Woods Elementary School, dressed as James the Red Engine.

“I used to go to these Halloween parties with my mom,” said Haley Harrison, Edwin’s paraprofessional. “The Special Olympics would have these amazing costumes for kids in wheelchairs and, oh my gosh, it was amazing to me.”

Harrison had the idea to help build Edwin a costume of his favorite character, James. She and three other instructors, including Edwin’s first-grade teacher Kerry Nahas, spent their free time after school building him an engine costume.

Nahas said the costume, which covered Edwin’s motorized wheelchair but had a cutout for him to operate the buttons, was made of cardboard boxes and other materials. Cotton ball “steam” issued from James’ whistle, and “wheels” made of CDs decorated the sides.

The teachers took measurements of Edwin’s chair and worked with an exacto knife to make the costume fit snugly.

“We stayed after school one day and put paint all over it and did the decorations all over it,” Nahas said. “We were hoping he’d be OK with us sliding it over him. The first time he wasn’t so sure, but once he saw it, he was like, ‘Yeah!’”

One of the teachers bought Edwin a conductor’s uniform, and the striped hat perched neatly on his dark hair. Nahas turned it around backward and said, “I want to see that smile.”

Edwin wore the costume Friday as part of a Book Character Parade at the school. The youngest students lined the halls while older students carried their favorite books, donned costumes of their favorite characters and marched through the halls.

Edwin, the “grand marshal” of the event, led the parade.

Harrison said Edwin loves to read, especially when he can read about buses and trains.

“He’s obsessed with trains,” Nahas said. “He wants to write about trains all the time, he reads books about trains all the time, so when he picked James, we wanted to make it as close to the real thing as we could.”

Harrison has worked with Edwin since he started at the school last year. Nahas, who started teaching Edwin this year, said it was important to all the teachers and staff who work with Edwin that he participate fully in the parade.

“I love him dearly,” she said. “It’s been such a joy getting to know him this year, and I learn a little more about him every day. I enjoy having him, and so I just thought, ‘Why not? Why shouldn’t he get to enjoy this like everybody else?’”

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