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End-of-Year Ceremonies

Ms. Olivia presenting Hazel with her "moving up" certificate from KI Preschool

There is a beautiful sense of closure with the end-of-year ceremonies that mark the end of another school year.

Central Special School hosts the annual Spring Show in which every student gets to stand on stage with their class and perform a song voted by the students. What makes this remarkable is that the student performers are all students with severe disabilities and special needs (with the exception of a few neurotypical kiddos in the ECI and Pre-K classes).

This year’s theme was popular TV theme songs, most of them throwbacks. The performances were a minute, more or less, which is ideal given the needs of the students. With adult assistants in the background, they either provide physical support to stand and clap, hand-over-hand support in playing an instrument like a xylophone, or physically roll the students in their wheelchairs on the stage. I especially thought “The Magic School Bus” performance which outfitted a class of eight-year-olds on wheelchairs with overlayed cardboard school buses to be particularly clever.

As each group went on stage and performed their numbers, I could see the faces of those kids brimming with smiles. Some on stage harmonized with the songs. Even nonverbal, many can sing through tones and vowels. Looking out at the audience of parents, siblings, and classmates, the student performers (which was literally the entire student body) had their moments to shine. When I watched every class’s performance (both morning and afternoon), I could see unabashed joy and pride in kids who rehearsed so much for their minute on stage. I was proud of them, every kid.

Maggie dressed as Blue's Clues in her wheelchair

As for my own student performers, Maggie’s class chose “Blue’s Clues” and I bought Maggie a Blue’s Clues costume. For the morning performance, Maggie was cruising in her wheelchair with Ms. Kristina pushing behind. They zipped back and forth on the stage while the other kids pretended to look for “Blue’s Clues.” For the afternoon performance, Maggie was feeling energetic enough to not need her chair. With Ms. Kristina behind her, she darted back and forth on the stage. Even more precious was Penny’s response. When Penny saw Maggie on stage, she wiggled her way free from my arms and ran to the base of the stage. She cheered for Maggie, dancing wildly to the song, pointing up on stage and chanting “Maggie! Maggie!” Looking down at her baby sister clapping, dancing, and cheering from the stage, the grin on Maggie’s face was priceless.

Hazel’s class performed the theme to “Sesame Street.” Hazel is a natural on stage. As the lead singer, she belted out the lyrics, “Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?” while her classmates played assorted instruments. Hazel doesn’t even need a mic. She can sing it loud, sing it proud, sing it so by the end of the song, you can hear the audience singing along with her. (Loud Mouse by Idina Menzel, the voice of Elsa, is one of her favorite books, a story of a mouse embracing her stage presence and talent).

Central Special has another month left of the school year, but Friday marked the end of Hazel’s year at preschool. Kneseth Israel Preschool (KI) has been such an instrumental experience for Hazel. She started at KI when she was two, joining the 2-3-year-olds class shortly after her second birthday. Since then, she has not only learned her letters, numbers, colors, sight words, shapes, and other preschool skills to ensure kindergarten readiness, but she has also made beautiful friendships with other children. She has learned social skills like taking turns and playing fair. She has developed a love for art and gardening. KI is not babysitting; it is school, and the teachers at KI (Ms. Olivia, Ms. Joy, and Ms. Jessica) have done an incredible job at shepherding these children as they grow cognitively, socially, and emotionally.

For the end of the year, KI had a number of end-of-year activities in which the kids got to close out their school year with play. Hazel especially loved “water day,” the day when kids were allowed to wear bathing suits and water shoes for sprinkler play and other water games. She was so worn out after so much fun that she fell asleep in the car in the afternoon and slept through the night. Friday’s “moving up” ceremony was especially moving. This marks an end of a pivotal time for her and all of her classmates.

As any experienced teacher can tell you, a remarkable transformation occurs every summer for the students. I would see this as a middle school teacher yearly, but this transformation occurs for every grade. Sixth graders would end the year with disproportionately large feet and return for seventh grade half a foot taller and marginally more proportional. Seventh graders would end the year with a carefree attitude and return even taller with an air of seriousness and maturity. By the time eighth graders were ready to move on to high school, many of them would have finally grown into their feet. Every summer, at whatever age, the kids transform into someone new, someone who has grown physically and matured cognitively, psychologically, and emotionally.

Whether the school year is over or coming to a close within a few weeks, the finish line is in sight for teachers, students, and parents.

Hazel, Ms. Kristina, and Penny after Maggie's performance.


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