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During a performance Wednesday at Würzburg Elementary School in Germany, Kids on the Block puppeteer Mary Bolsom helps puppets Mike Riley and Melody James discuss what it's like to have cerebral palsy.
During a performance Wednesday at Würzburg Elementary School in Germany, Kids on the Block puppeteer Mary Bolsom helps puppets Mike Riley and Melody James discuss what it's like to have cerebral palsy. (Lisa Horn / S&S)
During a performance Wednesday at Würzburg Elementary School in Germany, Kids on the Block puppeteer Mary Bolsom helps puppets Mike Riley and Melody James discuss what it's like to have cerebral palsy.
During a performance Wednesday at Würzburg Elementary School in Germany, Kids on the Block puppeteer Mary Bolsom helps puppets Mike Riley and Melody James discuss what it's like to have cerebral palsy. (Lisa Horn / S&S)
The Kids on the Block puppets perform at Würzburg Elementary School in Germany on Wednesday. The skits included lessons on learning disabilities, physical handicaps and deployed parents and relatives.
The Kids on the Block puppets perform at Würzburg Elementary School in Germany on Wednesday. The skits included lessons on learning disabilities, physical handicaps and deployed parents and relatives. (Lisa Horn / S&S)

WüRZBURG, Germany — Melody James seems to have a lot in common with DODDS fourth-graders — she enjoys making new friends, going to the movies and has three brothers that drive her crazy. She has few concerns, except for thinking a lot about her dad who has recently deployed to Iraq.

The similarities end there, however. Melody is a puppet and a member of the Kids on the Block, a program that uses puppets to teach children about physical learning disabilities and social issues.

The Bavaria Kids on the Block troupe visited fourth- and fifth-graders Wednesday at Würzburg Elementary School, where skits focused on learning disabilities, physical handicaps and deployed parents and relatives.

Thanks to an increase in funding for the program, it is the first year that the Bavaria troupe has had a complete performance schedule.

There are also Kids on the Block programs at Department of Defense Dependents Schools in the United Kingdom; Heidelberg, Germany; the Mediterranean and the Pacific.

“You can talk to kids, but they don’t always listen because you’re a teacher; an adult,” said Marty Lightle, a Kids on the Block puppeteer. “But when [the children] look at a puppet, they see it as another kid. Somehow they start talking to the puppets and … want to know what they think. It really is a magical thing.”

After each skit, the puppets encouraged pupils to ask questions. The children raised their hands in response and talked to the puppets as though they were classmates.

The deployment skit, “Wait Till the War is Over,” brought the most hands Wednesday and is typically the most emotional skit, Lightle said.

One child asked Melody, “Why do our dads have to be gone for a year?”

Melody’s answer? That’s how long the military decided it would take for mom and dad to get the job done.

Another pupil asked the puppet how it feels to have her dad gone.

“It’s so timely with all the deployments going on right now,” Lightle said. “Two weeks ago, when we did it at Ansbach, it was just a tear-jerker. The kids were talking about saying goodbye to their dads and crying. It was hard.”

Upcoming tour

Upcoming Kids on the Block performances by the Bavaria, United Kingdom and Heidelberg troupes (times are to be announced unless listed):

Tuesday — Feltwell Elementary School, England.

March 12 — 8:45 a.m., Bad Aibling Elementary School; 1:30 p.m., Garmisch Elementary School, both in Germany.

March 24-25 — Lakenheath Elementary School, England.

March 30 — 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Bamberg Elementary School, Germany.

April 22 — Vilseck Elementary School, Germany.

April 23 — 8:30 a.m., Grafenwöhr Elementary School; 1:30 p.m., Hohenfels Elementary School, both in Germany.

May 5-6 — Patch Elementary School, Robinson Elementary School, Stuttgart; Boeblingen Elementary School, Boeblingen, all in Germany.

May 10 — Dexheim Elementary School, Germany.

May 11 — 1 p.m., Aukaumm Elementary School; Hainerberg Elementary School, both in Wiesbaden, Germany.

May 12 — Darmstadt Elementary School in Germany; Mark Twain Elementary School, Heidelberg, Germany.

May 13 — Mannheim Elementary School, Germany.

May 14 — Patrick Henry Elementary School, Heidelberg.

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