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(Enlarge) Proud parent Rick Arbuthnot gives his son, Richard, a kiss as he leaves the school's gym during Friday's graduation ceremony. (Matt Button | Aegis staff)

The nine graduates were not the only ones to say goodbye to John Archer School Friday afternoon.

Gerald Horn, assistant principal for the last 11 years, announced his retirement from the post effective July 1.

“It's bittersweet, obviously I like these kids,” he said after the ceremony. “It's also time to go.”

Horn is known in the John Archer community for the School Days Remembered portion of the graduations, in which he highlights characteristics of the graduating students.

Horn started his last presentation by praising all of the special needs students for their “hugely diverse interests,” including music, singing and even hats. The students include Michael Allen, Richard Arbuthnot III, Alexander Graybeal, Danara Higgins, Stephen Irwin, Troy Jones, Andrew Platt, Ryann Rollyson and Andrew Werring.

He started with Michael Allen, who is known for his love of movies and book fairs. Allen frequently attended class reliving the videos he had watched the night before and does impressions as well.

“What Michael is known for the most are his Donald Trump imitations,” Horn said. “When he used to get upset with staff, he would announce to the offending person ‘you're fired.'”

Arbuthnot was recognized next for his energy and curiosity during his time at John Archer.

“He loves to explore the classroom and the school at large,” Horn said, “but he's learned to return to task when asked.”

Graybeal is known as a happy young man, Horn said, who smiles frequently and loves Scooby Doo.

“While he often seems oblivious to his surroundings, he's not,” he said. “That he laughs appropriately tells us, the staff, and tells you that he does attend to his environment.”

Horn described the next graduate, Higgins, as a “pleasant and unassuming” young lady, who doesn't talk much but “when she feels like it” will communicate with hand signals and audible sounds.

“She has very good counting skills,” he added.

Irwin may be confined to a wheelchair, but Horn said he is quite the escape artist. The young man positions his wheelchair at the door and at the first sign a teacher is distracted, rolls out the door and protests loudly when caught.

He is also very demonstrative.

“He frequently blows kisses, usually reserved for women,” Horn said.

Jones came to John Archer as a 7-year-old, Horn said, and loves hats, especially his Humphrey Bogart-style fedora, which he quickly donned after the ceremony. In addition, Jones uses music to help him learn new words.

“He would relate the new words to rock-n-roll songs and sometimes begin singing in class,” Horn added.

Like Irwin, Platt uses a wheelchair during the school day, but once he reached the bus ramp, Horn said he sprinted to the bus. Platt also loves plants, numbers and puzzles.

“He uses the pictures on the puzzles facing down,” he said, “and does assembly with the shapes.”

Rollyson is almost always smiling and has learned to adjust to changes in his routine that used to throw him off guard, Horn said.

Werring loves little details, Horn said, and often told the bus driver how to conduct their route and notes when the driver takes a different road for a new student. Werring also developed reading skills at John Archer and loves The Temptations.

“He sometimes burst into song singing ‘My Girl,'” Horn said, adding that Werring was able to program a microwave after the rest of his family failed to.

These graduates will attend The Arc, The Harford Center, Day Active and Chesapeake Care Resources Inc.

PTA President Kim Holcomb presented the graduates with gifts before Board of Education Vice President Leonard Wheeler, County Attorney Robert McCord, County Councilman Dion Guthrie, Rev. Harold Hubble, Del. Susan McComas and Superintendent Robert Tomback all spoke at the graduation.

Wheeler joked about a 10-page speech, but made brief comments about the love parents have for their children and the love in that ceremony. Tomback also commented on the joy in the room.

Guthrie's grandson graduated at John Archer the year before and Guthrie spoke about the progress the school helped him to make. McCord, too, praised the school and the learning environment within.

“While they're teaching you, you are teaching them,” he said to the graduates.

Hubble, of Great Hope Bible Church, said that God smiles on all of the graduating classes in Harford County, but “gives a thumbs up” to John Archer's. McComas wasn't scheduled to speak, but joked that she took any opportunity to speak before Sen. Barry Glassman, who was scheduled to speak but wasn't in attendance.

“I bring you greetings from the Maryland General Assembly,” she said. “It would be nice if all 188 members could come to this graduation because we would make better decisions down in Annapolis.”

Following the ceremony was a reception for graduates and their families, where many parents expressed gratitude to John Archer School and its staff. Richard Arbuthnot's father, Richard Arbuthnot, agreed that the state should visit the school more often.


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