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Pied Piper parties at annual winter carnival

News Photo by Julie Riddle Children dance to upbeat music at a winter carnival dance at Pied Piper School in Alpena on Friday.

ALPENA — It was too cold to go out and play, but the fun went on at Pied Piper School in Alpena on Friday.

To the foot-tapping sounds of “Party in the U.S.A.” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” students danced in the school’s gym, exuberant smiles and frolicsome feet ready to celebrate, whatever the weather.

An annual tradition, the school’s winter carnival usually features snowmobile rides, sledding, and other outdoor fun.

The fun stayed indoors this year because of icy temperatures, but students still romped their way through a morning of games, crafts, and cookie-decorating.

Pied Piper serves students who are facing moderate or severe cognitive or physical impairments or autism. Students range in age from 3 to 26.

In addition to providing a cheerful mid-winter break, the carnival provides the students practice in socialization and communication, Pied Piper Principal Stacy Wentz said.

After a morning of scheduled play, the students bopped, skipped, and hopped around the gym, dancing joyfully to the beat of their own drummer.

A boy with a shy grin approached friends and visitors, holding out valentines on which was written, “From Paul.” A girl in a soft white sweater watched the more active children, dipping her knees gently in time to the music.

Dance tunes rocked the gym, courtesy of Murphy Drury, one of the school’s transitional students with uninhibited dance moves of his own.

As they reach their upper teen years, Pied Piper students are helped into the world of employment, school staff serving as coaches as students transition into real-world work experiences.

Drury, who said he specializes in night club music, has been working toward developing his own disk jockey business. He sometimes plays his over-1,000 songs at a local establishment in the summer, he said, pulling up a medley of energetic tunes on his computer and cranking up the volume on his official, special-order DJ sound controller.

Around him, happy-faced children capered and frolicked, blissfully enjoying the music and the moment.

“They’re so sweet,” said Administrative Assistant Linda Seguin, who calls her position the best job she’s ever had. “There’s an innocence about them. I’ve gotten much more back from them than what I give.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.