Here’s Wanda’s Story, one of our favorite illustrations of the power of connecting special needs kids with music-based programs.
While visiting one of our new project sites a while back, we observed our Count Me In instructor working with her 10 new students. In this class, our instructor was delivering the TRAP (The Rhythmic Arts Project) curriculum, which requires students to attend to (“see”) what the instructor is asking them to play on a drum, to repeat (“say”) what the instructor has asked them to play while actually enacting (“do”) what’s been requested. For example, if the instructor shows them that the third of four notes on a chart is accented (and, in some cases, physically illustrates this accent on the third note), the student is expected to look at the four-note chart with it’s third note accented and “play-and-say” one, two THREE (hitting the drum harder), four. SEE-SAY/PLAY. Got it?
The group in question consisted of kids ranging in age from 7–15. Special needs students are often grouped according to ability rather than academic grade level or age. Anyway (I digress), our instructor first reviewed this exercise with the entire group, then went around to each student to have her/him perform the exercise individually. (Note: For some students, this apparently simple task is quite difficult!) Eventually our instructor reached Wanda.
Wanda had watched the entire exercise and when her turn came, she enthusiastically followed the directions, reading the chart and counting the beats aloud as she struck her drum (one, two, THREE, four). Our instructor was obviously pleased – almost gleeful – with Wanda’s response
and moved on to the next student. The lesson went on, with various other activities. As guests, we witnessed nothing spectacular.
Following this session, our instructor told us that those were Wanda’s first words in the group – nothing worthy of note, since this was only the third time the group had met together. Wanda’s classroom teacher joined our conversation, expressing her surprise in hearing Wanda speak. Apparently, the teacher – and everyone else at the school – identified Wanda as “non-verbal.”
Before leaving the site, we stopped at the administrator’s office to say hello and goodbye and, in passing, shared the “Wanda story” with her. She told us that we must be mistaken about the student in question: Wanda was non-verbal. When we assured her that we were talking about Wanda, the administrator told us that she was glad to see us but that she’d have to excuse herself to go and call Wanda’s mother and tell her what had happened that day during the Count Me In session.
As mere visitors we were unable to appreciate the gravity and joy of this event. Wanda went on to become a fully interactive (and vocal) member of the twice-weekly group sessions, and we went on witnessing her enthusiasm. Just one small tale of why we do what we do!.