Whenever you’re putting on a show like “Frozen,” you should always expect a little bit of magic.
Students at Early Light Academy in South Jordan, Utah got just that during their recent production of the popular Disney musical. In fact, their show was even more magical than most because it featured some traditionally under-represented members of the student body: special-needs students.
Theater teacher Toni Butler said that she’s wanted to try putting on an “inclusive” show for a long time now, but she only recently got the green light. She called upon local groups like Inclusion Cheer and Kensington Academy to recruit students who’d never gotten the chance to act or work backstage on a production before. Each special needs student was paired up with a “buddy” to help them learn their lines, find their marks on stage, and other necessary tasks.
Thirteen special needs cast members participated in the show. There were 5 performances in all — two of them were “inclusion” performances.
Toni said that seeing her students step up to help and befriend the special needs classmates warmed her heart.
“Watching my own students coming and start working with inclusion kids — at first, there’s a learning curve where they’re awkward, they don’t how to talk, they don’t know how to approach,” she said. “They became friends and they started seeing each other as equals, and I just think that’s so beautiful.”
Students who filled the “buddy” roles said the experience was overwhelmingly positive, and they really felt like they’ve made a friend for life.
“We all absolutely adore them, and we’ve always tried to make sure they’ve had a wonderful time because we’ve had a wonderful time with them,” said Early Light Academy “buddy” student Cassandra Zaugg.
The special needs students feel the same way. Chelsea Lopez runs Inclusion Cheer and works with special needs kids and adults everyday. She says inclusion projects like this mean the world to people who are often overlooked in our society.
“For them to be able to learn and be around these kids, it’s going to affect them in every other area of their life — so, in school, they’re going to be more accepting and inclusive; at their workplaces, they’re going to be more accepting and inclusive; seriously, on the streets, in the store,” Chelsea said.
This seems like such a wonderful way to open young minds to other people’s differences! The only way to make a more inclusive society is to remove stigmas and start seeing people for who they are inside. This theater program is a great start!
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