MESSENGER -- Parker High School is opening doors to the world of music for students with cognitive disabilities.
The high school offers the Adaptive Music Program, which allows students with cognitive disabilities to learn about rhythm, music and dance, as well as how to play certain instruments.
“We have a range of different students, from the more severe students to the students with more moderate or mild cognitive disabilities,” said Dana Tait, director of the Adaptive Music Program. “For the higher functioning kids, we have been learning different parts of music and different notes. We learn rhythms and how to play with different kinds of instruments. We learn dances.
“It takes a little longer for things to be learned, so we kind of teach the same thing in a lot of different ways for them to have mastery on a certain topic.”
Students might get a chance to play the drums, bells, horns, boom whackers and keyboards.
“I use resources from the Internet in terms of musical items,” Tait said. Read the current edition here: http://www.server-jbmultimedia.net/CSI-JanesvilleMessengerSunday
The Adaptive Music Program helps the students with their other classes, as well, Tait said.
“For the more severe students, their educational approach is more sensory based. For students who don’t have as (many) academic capabilities, they use rhythms and beats and music to learn things like how to spell their name or a certain routine or words to something that is important to them,” Tait said. “For other students, I think it can be proven that music can be translated to better memory for different topics. There’s more curriculum that is music based, and students are more likely to remember part of the information if it’s in a musical tune. Not only does it connect to them in a certain way, but it allows them to use music to remember important information.”
The students also have the option to perform during an annual fundraiser concert. For the concert, Parker students perform with members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Wisconsin Singers. This year’s concert was held Feb. 21.
“Anybody in the class can participate. I don’t force any of my students to do (the concert). It’s strictly their choice,” Tait said. “Some of the students have stage fright or (are) just not open to the idea, which is fine.”
Robin Whitty-Novotny, director of the Wisconsin Singers, said her group has been working with the Parker Adaptive Music Program for about four years. Members of the Wisconsin Singers always look forward to performing with the students, Whitty-Novotny said.
“For us, it’s the highlight of our year. We do about 40 performances a year, and we always look forward to this one,” she said. “Our students are blessed with talents, and this is an opportunity for us to share our talents onstage with the Adaptive Music Program.
“We always walk in the door expecting to give something to the students, but when we walk out, they give something to us with their enthusiasm and joy. We love being onstage with them. They just steal the show.”
The proceeds from this year’s concert will be used toward a field trip for the Parker students to Eagle River. On the trip, students will have an opportunity to canoe, fish, plant trees, take a pontoon boat ride, visit a planetarium and attend classes about reptiles and amphibians, Tait said.
“It’s just something different for them to be away from a school environment and see how they react in a recreational setting without their parents,” Tait said.
The Adaptive Music Program is offered as an elective course for all grades. About 15 students are currently enrolled in the program.
“For a lot of our students, there’s not a lot of elective opportunities that are self-contained that they are able to keep up with, so a music elective is something for them to have a fun class,” Tait said. “It’s a break for them and it’s outside an academic class.”
Tait has been involved with the program for about four years.
“It’s taken four years to take it kind of where I would like to see it, but it’s really grown,” Tait said. “It changes with the student population. You have to cater to the different students we have in class. Now that we have a more moderate to mild population, we are able to do some more advanced things. Like right now, we’re learning a song, and we’re using bells to learn the notes. Our hope is to possibly record it or put it on a CD for us.”
John Biester, band director, directed the adaptive program in previous years and said he enjoyed working with the students.
“They were great kids. It was great fun directing the program,” Biester said. “For me, it was the highlight of my day, I miss it. The kids were always happy to see us.”
Eventually, Tait would like to see her students host their own concert.
“Music is really important to different students, and it’s really fun to watch them react to music in different ways,” she said. “Certain students respond better to certain types of activities. Overall, I think everyone in the class has a good time and enjoys being a part of it.”