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A classload of Barry 'Fanilows' at Oak Hills Elementary

TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Lori Therrien's special education class at Oak Hills Elementary School enjoyed activities and food during a Very Barry party last week before attending Barry Manilow's concert in Portland.Lina Mora might have been born a quarter century after Barry Manilow’s biggest hits, but count the Oak Hills Elementary School fifth-grader among the enduring pop musician’s biggest “Fanilows.”

“He makes good choices, but not bad choices like Justin Bieber,” Lina explained before jumping up to dance as her class took part in a “Very Barry” party as a warmup to last week’s Manilow concert that most of her class attended in Portland.

“He sings the bestest songs,” agreed fourth-grader Chris Marble, who is partial to Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You.”

Lina and Chris are members of Lori Therrien’s Academic Learning Center classroom, which teaches educational and life skills to kids with learning disabilities such as autism.

And while not part of the regular curriculum, Therrien — almost accidentally — passed on one of her own joys in life: The love of all things Manilow. Therrien’s personal bulletin board behind her desk divulges her Barry devotion: It is three-quarters covered in Manilow photos and memorabilia, while her own family pictures are pushed into a lower corner.

But she doesn’t try to push off her Barry beliefs on others. It started quietly last fall, when Therrien was softly playing a Manilow tune while her students worked. The kids asked about the music, and before long, the class was holding brief Friday afternoon “Copacabana” dance parties to reward successful weeks.TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Instructional Assistant Ingalill Shead makes Barry Bling necklaces with fourth-grader Kevin Davison.

“It was a way to get up and blow off steam,” Therrien said.

As the students grew to love the music, Lina suggested that the class write letters to try to persuade Manilow to visit them at Oak Hills.

While Manilow didn’t respond directly, his publicity team contacted Therrien and offered enough tickets for the students, their parents and 11 staff members to attend the May 28 show at the Moda Center, part of the singer’s “One Last Time!” tour. In all, the class received 38 free tickets.

And then it just kept getting better.

Jason Bender, managing partner of the nearby Outback Steakhouse, has a soft spot for kids and stepped in to send the concert-goers off with full bellies. He paid for most of their pre-concert dinner tab and also pitched in for the chartered bus trip home.

“We have a philosophy of giving back and I have a philosophy of supporting the kids,” said Bender, who has two kids at Oak Hills (though not in Therrien’s class).

Therrien’s parents, Sue and Jerry Kouzmanoff, who bear some responsibility for exposing their daughter to Manilow during the early 1980s, helped pay for the bus ride back. The Beaverton School District’s Special Education program provided the bus that took everyone to the show.

Class supporters at Cedar Mill Bales Thriftway and Hoffman Farms provided the cake and berries served at the “Very Barry” pre-concert party.

“It’s gone to a different level than we thought it would,” Therrien said. “Nobody had to do any of this, but everyone stepped up to do this.”

Cheryl Hagseth, Oak Hills’ principal, stopped by the party last week and said she has been impressed at how Therrien had used the entire experience to work on academics such as writing lessons and life skills including restaurant etiquette.

“She makes everything fun for them,” Hagseth said before the concert, which she was planning to attend. “It’s just a great group of kids.”

The entire concert party wore custom-made “We (heart) Barry” T-shirts as well as custom buttons and necklaces. Other concert-goers stopped them to ask where they could buy the same items.

“We ended up becoming the star attraction at the Barry concert. There were people taking pictures of us,” Therrien recalled a few days later. “I would say about half of the kids danced through the entire concert.”

This was Therrien’s seventh Manilow concert — she has all the memorabilia at home to prove it — and she already had purchased her own prime seats before the singer’s people offered up the freebies.

Therrien gave those original tickets to her parents and sat with the kids in what she described as “good seats” but farther from the stage. After comparing seats, her folks offered to switch tickets so Therrien could get a closer view of what might be the almost 72-year-old singer’s final concert tour. Their teacher/daughter declined.

“I wouldn’t have traded it for the world,” said Therrien, who added that while her memories of six previous Manilow concerts have kind of melted together, “This one can never be melted.”

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