Saturday, January 04, 2003
Story of Blacksburg boy comes back to HBO
"Graduating Peter" updates the progress of Peter Gwazdauskas, the Blacksburg boy whose third-grade year was documented in the Oscar-winning film "Educating Peter."
By JILL HOFFMAN
"Graduating Peter," the sequel to the Oscar-winning HBO film "Educating Peter," about a Blacksburg boy with Down's syndrome, will air this month.
Peter Gwazdauskas entered regular classes in Montgomery County Public Schools as a third-grader with Down's syndrome after the county started an inclusion program. "Educating Peter" documented his first year at Gilbert Linkous Elementary School.
Gerardine Wurzburg, producer and director of the documentaries, returned to Blacksburg to film her subject from sixth grade until he graduated from Blacksburg High School in 2001.
"Graduating Peter" follows the maturing young man through pivotal moments: becoming manager of the varsity boys soccer team in high school, going to the senior prom and graduating with a Certificate of Attendance to the cheers of classmates.
Gwazdauskas struggles with loneliness and the limitations of his disability. But he also flourishes as his peers accept him.
"I feel as if he really grew tremendously in those last two years," Wurzburg said.
Cameras shadowed Gwazdauskas at several jobs in the community - from a restaurant kitchen to the town's transit system.
His mother, Judy, meets with his teachers and plans for his transition to high school and into the world and tries to meet his medical needs.
After "Educating Peter" won the Academy Award for best documentary short subject, Montgomery County's inclusion program received nationwide attention. Thousands of visitors - from reporters to school officials - descended on the school system to observe.
Inclusion is a controversial education model that places special-needs students in regular classes. Teachers must create individual lessons for different levels of achievement. Critics say special education students can be disruptive and hamper other kids' learning.
School officials and teachers cooperated with Wurzburg during her years of filming. Shoots were five to 10 days a year. Wurzburg often watched without cameras and stayed in touch with Gwazdauskus' family and teachers to track big moments in his life.
"Every kid has an interesting trajectory through life," she said. "In Peter's life, it had to be more carefully watched. [For] any parent of a child with a disability, it requires much more vigilance.
"This is very much the story," she added, "of the planning required to make sure Peter has the experience of being a teenager."
The documentary will debut on HBO Jan. 21 at 7:30 p.m. It will also air Jan. 24 at 11 a.m., Jan. 26 at 11:45 a.m. and Jan. 30 at 6:15 a.m. It will air on HBO2 Jan. 29 at 6:45 p.m.
Note: Peter's father, Frank, is a dairy science professor on campus.