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East High fine arts program fosters inclusion for special needs students

East High fine arts program fosters inclusion for special needs students

East High concert band and mixed abilities studentsEast High band teacher, Maranda Wilson, and Mixed Abilities teacher, Christianna Marcy, have partnered on a new program designed to foster the inclusion of special education students into the school’s band.

United Sound is a national program whose mission is to remove barriers and foster social change through music by pairing special needs students with peer mentors in a music classroom.

“I learned about United Sound from a friend of mine who is a teacher and uses it in their classroom in Olathe, Kansas,” said Wilson. “Once I started looking into it, I thought ‘This is something we need to have at East High School where Mixed Abilities kids can have more diverse opportunities and get to play an instrument.’”

Wilson used COVID relief funds to help start the program and reached out to Marcy to see if she and her students would be interested in joining the program.

“I had been studying peer mentoring on my own and hoped to find another teacher who would be willing to partner with me,” said Marcy. “When I found out about United Sound, I was blown away and knew it would be a great experience not only for my students but for the peer mentors who would be working with them.”

They began in November, with band students visiting Marcy’s classroom to introduce themselves and different instruments to the Mixed Abilities students. Once instruments and mentors had been assigned, eight Mixed Abilities students met with band students once a week during advocacy.

Wilson’s students were responsible for looking at the music and figuring out how they could adapt it for their mentees.

All the hard work paid off on March 21, when the students and mentors came together to perform a song during East High’s concert band performance.

“I was most impressed with the peer mentors,” said Marcy. “They came alongside my students and celebrated every new skill that was learned. I was really inspired to bring that enthusiasm back into my own classroom. Every week, I would be asked multiple times by our new musicians ‘When is the next rehearsal?’ ‘When is the next band practice?’” 

Isabella Powell, a junior trumpet player, mentored new musician Mori Grimmett in playing the recorder.

“I liked that it allowed me to help someone else,” said Powell. “My brother has special needs, so being able to help someone like my brother was a fun experience. I’m so proud of Mori and got to see her grow as a musician.”

Genevieve McDaniel, a junior clarinet player and mentored Aundrea Riley in playing the recorder.

“My favorite thing was watching her grow,” said McDaniel. “Every time she would be able to make a sound or get the note correct, would just brighten my day. I always looked forward to Ace Time and being able to do United Sound.”

New musician Riley loved being part of United Sound.

"My favorite part was the concert,” said Riley. “It made me feel happy." 

Wilson is so pleased with this year’s results, she’s committing to carrying the program forward.

“I knew this would be great for the Mixed Abilities students,” said Wilson. “I didn’t realize how transformative it would be for my students to get to work with the new musicians and get to know them and make those friendships and create those bonds. I get chills just thinking about it because it’s really powerful.”