The eyes of 6-year-old Aidan Veteran gleamed as he approached the petting zoo at Garces Memorial High School, where he pointed to the ducks and bunnies he anxiously waited to pet.
Aidan was one of 500 special education students who attended the 19th Annual Special People Play Day Friday morning.
Students from the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office and the Bakersfield City School District were paired up with Garces students who took them around to activities such as face painting, a soccer shootout, pony rides, a petting zoo and other fun games.
"It's really amazing seeing how excited and happy Aidan got when he saw there were animals he could pet," said Caitlyn Bradford, 17, a junior at Garces. She held on to Aidan's hand tightly so that he would wait his turn to go in. When the gate finally opened, he ran to chase the ducks.
"It's like the ducks from the pond," he said smiling, pointing to the ducks and attempting to pet them.
This excitement for the smallest things such as petting an animal is what the play day is all about, said Deana Bond, a special education teacher aide at Fairview Elementary.
Sitting on a bench, taking in the view of all the kids playing and having the time of their lives, Bond smiled from ear to ear.
"This is my first year here and it has exceeded my expectations," she said. "The kids were so happy when they got off the bus that it really warms your heart."
A few yards away from Bond was the Bakersfield Fire Department with a line of 15 or more students waiting to turn on a fire hose, with BFD Engineer Julian Valenzuela holding the hose.
Kneeling down and holding the fire hose firmly, Valenzuela gestured for the next student to walk up and hold the fire hose. He then told them to pull back hard and the water, under a great deal of pressure, made a couple of the kids stumble as they tried to hold on to the hose.
"This day is all about the kids and seeing them smile and just having a good time," Valenzuela said.
Creating a day for special education kids to feel like regular kids is why Garces started the play day 18 years ago.
The idea came from a former director of campus ministry who attended a Special Olympics track meet and thought it would be a great idea to make an event for special education kids for students at Garces to contribute to their community.
"We try and teach them compassion," said Susan Rizo, 48, the current director of campus ministry. "I think it's a really neat way for our students to walk in somebody else's shoes for a day and be able to extend themselves to somebody else."
Sitting down in a red button-down shirt, a 3-year-old child named Alex laughed while putting on a white cowboy hat and laughed some more as he took it off.
"He apparently likes hats," said Kenya Rummelsburg, 17, senior at Garces as she patted Alex on the back. "He has been laughing and smiling all day long and it's amazing to be able to be a part of his life for just a couple of hours because I know he will remember this fun day."