Students with special needs find their rhythm

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SPARTA, Mich (WOTV) – A drum beat echoes down the halls of Sparta’s Appleview Elementary.

The source: a boisterous bunch of musicians keeping a beat and dancing to the rhythm. Students with cognitive impairments from across the district are stepping in line with Artists Creating Together duo Josh Dunigan and Leah Ivory, as they lead a 10-week course to get students in the groove.

The musicians came onboard through a grant, applied for by Appleview CI teacher Lynelle Geer, who said music brings her students’ talents to life.

“It gives them so much chance to shine,” Geer said. “A lot of them have good rhythm. They love music. They learn by music, and have something they can perform in and do well after they practice.”

CI students aren’t alone — they are joined with their LINKS friends, fifth-grade volunteers who partner up with them. Sparta’s CI program also offers regional support for students in surrounding districts.

Seventh-grader CI student Aliyah Monterusso and fifth-grade LINKS friend Miah Lamancusa have known each other for five years outside of school.

“We do all kinds of stuff together,” Aliyah said. “We hang out, do fun stuff. We used to get ice cream a lot.”

The drumming is intense in a small, crowded room, Aliyah said, but she and Miah are warmed up on the bongo drums. “It makes me feel OK-ish,” Aliyah said. “Nervous-ish. But it’s fun for me and for her and for everybody else.”

Lots of Challenges, Many Gifts

Third-grader Norton McKay is also warming up to the bongos, and finding his rhythm — left, right, left, right — with others around him. His LINKS friend, fifth-grader Troy Jones, said he enjoys just hanging out with his younger partner.

“I wanted to be a part of this experience because I think it’s cool to have them have fun and know that there’s somebody with them,” Troy said. “I think it’s cool to be surrounded by all their laughter and see how much they enjoy it. It makes me feel good inside.”

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Sparta Middle School CI teacher Doug Peterman demonstrates a cool rhythm on the bongos

Aliyah’s LINKS friend Miah Lamancusa agreed.

“We did it because they’re fun to be with,” Miah said. “It’s a fun experience to have in your life.”

Geer said she hopes the program will culminate in a performance in May. But every minute of music-making and dancing helps exercise motor skills and provides an outlet for positive behavior.

“They have a lot of those challenges, but so many gifts,” she said. “They’re great kids. They have so much to contribute.”

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