A Chance to Shine

Everyone deserves to be celebrated and have their moment in the spotlight. It happens more naturally for some than others. But when the “some” decides to help the “others,” the results are magical.

Our high school puts on a yearly musical. It is a highly anticipated event. Students audition, prepare and rehearse for months. All of their hard work culminates in a shining moment of performance.

Our high school also has a large group of students who receive special education services. For these students, who have a wide range of disabilities, participating in such a production is rare. They are often overlooked.

A common assumption is they are not interested or able to be involved in such events. Nothing could be further from the truth. When given the chance, it is their light that shines the brightest!

This past week, these students were provided that chance. A show created especially for them and by them, with the help of drama students.

The playbill listed the title of each act and the names of all participants. There was no distinction between drama students and students receiving special education services.

The acts were as diverse as the cast. Magic acts, singing groups, lip-sync, and comedy skits kept the audience engaged for over an hour. Their “Show of Shows” was a hit!

Big productions typically have a grand finale. These precious students decided the best way to end their show was to include the audience. It was entitled Dance Party!

The entire audience jumped to their feet and rushed the stage. A grande finale filled with hugs, smiles, tears, and of course, dancing! Precious students who are often left out were congratulated and celebrated! And their smiles? Contagious! The joy in the air, almost tangible.

Weeks of planning, practicing and making new friends resulted in a funny and heartwarming show which cast and audience members will not soon forget. A show which may just change the hearts of all involved forever. One group because they were willing to share the spotlight. The other because they were given a chance to shine.

Side note: This production raised around $1,800 to benefit Special Olympics.

The Spotlight

Prior to teaching elementary music, I was a special education teacher.  Because of that experience,  preparing my students for our school’s Special Olympics assembly held an important place in my heart.  The entire student body would be singing a song celebrating our Olympians, and I wanted to make sure they understood the significance.  This was an opportunity for them to shine a spotlight on their amazing peers, peers who were often left out.  We discussed how each of us was special and had something to offer no matter our differences. During one discussion a hand went up, “You mean, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover!”  Yes!  As the conversation continued, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a memory of doing just that when I was teaching special education.  I proceeded to share the following story:

One day a new student came to my class.  He was non-verbal, had vision and hearing impairments, severe balance and mobility issues, and only had one arm.  The first time I saw him, I cried.  How could I possibly reach this child? Certainly I was not experienced enough.  I felt helpless. And then one day a college student volunteer was playing with my other students on the playground.  As we lined up to come inside, He began carefully lifting each child so they could touch the ceiling.  Each waited their turn, laughing as they were raised high up in the air.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my new little friend hobbling toward the college student.  He stopped in front of our visitor, and stretched his one little arm up as high as he could reach as if to say, “My turn, my turn!”  Squeals of pure joy came as he had his turn to touch that otherwise unreachable goal.  In that moment, this precious child was in the spotlight. 

As I finished my story, the realization that I had judged this sweet little book by his cover brought unstoppable tears.  My voice cracked as I finished sharing with my students, and I watched their expressions change from curiosity and confusion to understanding and compassion.  My unplanned confession brought new clarity and purpose for our assembly song preparation.  But more importantly it encouraged those familiar with being in the spotlight to look for opportunities to shine the spotlight on those not so familiar.