HERMISTON - Five very special students at Highland Hills Elementary School tamed lions, shot balloons from a "cannon," rode a pony and juggled scarves during the first ever Highland Hills Circus.

Tim LeQue's special education department transformed the play area outside their rooms into a three-ring circus as a special treat for their students. The staff, dressed as clowns, toured the circus with the students.

But the afternoon wasn't designed just for fun and games; there was a method to the circus madness.

The students used math skills to purchase circus tickets to ride the pony, get their face painted, shoot water balloons from a bucket cannon or buy a balloon animal, popcorn, cookies and a drink.

Val Methvin, found the circus idea in an old "Good Housekeeping" magazine.

"I thought our kids needed something fun to do," said, the special education assistant. "Instead of going on a field trip, we brought the field trip to them."

The circus began with each student walking a "tight rope" taped to the sidewalk, holding an umbrella, using their motor skills and learning balance. The circus also helped the students with their social skills and eye-hand coordination, said Sam Mills, special education assistant.

"James couldn't talk when he entered kindergarten at Highland Hills," said Cathy Sproul, James' mother. "Now we can't shut him up. He's done so great with Miss Val (Methvin). She's done so great with him."

James Sproul, a second grader, has always been afraid of animals, his mother said. He was afraid of Ginger, the large golden retriever who played a lion for the circus and jumped through hoops for the lion tamers.

His classmate, Michael Morgan, donned a lion mask and Sproul tamed him instead. But when it came to the pony rides, James overcame his fear and rode the pony three times around the playground.

Antonio Longoria was afraid of Ginger also, but he was fascinated with Breanna Long's baby pygmy goat, Amber. It wasn't long before he was sitting with Long and petting the little goat.

Cristian Solas and Lyall Amy had a great time also, riding Twister, the pony, around the school yard. Courtney Long, 11, and her mother, Kim, brought Twister to the circus and let the children ride and groom the pony.

Morgan had a great time, he said. He liked the face painting the best and chose a rocket for Elise McIlmoil to paint on his cheek. He also liked being the lion, he said.

"All of this is just for our five kids," Methvin said. "No big audience, it is just for them."

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