Unified Drama brings together every voice and all abilities

Unified Drama brings together every voice and all abilities
Posted on 03/19/2015
This is the image for the news article titled Unified Drama brings together every voice and all abilitiesIn the stage-lit theater of Roosevelt High School, Madina steps to the front of the stage and begins telling a story in American Sign Language.

Another student moves into the light and says: “They can’t understand you – I don’t think they’re listening.”

Others chime in:
“Why can’t you at least try to speak?”
“She is speaking, but you don’t speak her language.”
“Let her speak!"

Then, “We all have a voice and a story to tell, but sometimes it’s hard to get anyone to listen, to take the time and really get to know who we are.”

That is an overarching theme of “Voices,” a Unified Drama production that will be performed on Thursday, March 19, in the Roosevelt High School auditorium at 7 p.m. Roosevelt is collaborating with the Unified Drama program at Nathan Hale on the production. The show is a series of vignettes, some monologues, some group sketches, some songs. It opens with the Nathan Hale students performing the caterpillar and tea party scenes from “Alice in Wonderland.”

Unified Drama draws together students of all abilities, including those in special education and some who are not, in “an inclusive environment that fosters respect for every voice and all abilities.” It was created by Brittney Edge-Leonard, a special education instructional assistant at Hale with a passion for the theater, at the urging of Hale Assistant Principal Jolene Grimes. Tom Ledcke, a special education teacher at Roosevelt who has a background in theater, picked up the idea and started a club there.

“This is a wonderful example of a program that honors the district’s commitment to educating every student,” said Wyeth Jessee, Seattle Public Schools’ Executive Director of Special Education. “We’re trying to change the culture and the mindset so that everyone sees these students not as children with disabilities, but as children who have many gifts and abilities. We want to educate the whole child.”

Nathan Hale’s program started as a one-hour-a-week club, then became eligible for tutoring credits, and next year will listed as a Fine Arts class offering. “The point is that it’s really rapidly advancing, and it has become so popular so quickly,” Edge-Leonard said.

One of the first students to sign up was Liam Neville, urged on by Edge-Leonard, a favorite special education teacher of his. He played both a duck and the King of Hearts in Roosevelt’s Unified Drama production of “Alice in Wonderland.”

“I can’t tell you how amazing this experience has been for my son,” said Liam’s mom, Kate Orville.
Liam loved being up on stage and, in his words, “running around and having fun up there.”

And, Orville said, participating in a program that includes students both in special education and general education helped Liam as well as the entire family feel more a part of the broader Nathan Hale community. “I think there’s just a sense of being important and being seen,” she said. “Because you can feel somewhat invisible being in the smaller classes.”

The program isn’t just for special education students. From the start, general education students have been involved, and Edge-Leonard is actively recruiting students of different races, religions and sexual orientations to become involved as well. The program offers a kind of “expression without ego” where students get a social structure for meeting different kinds of students, learn team building and leadership, and have a voice.

“It’s just another avenue for them to be able to encourage others and see the potential within themselves,” Edge-Leonard said.

Orville adds: “I think the more exposure to kids of differing abilities early on, the more acceptance there is.”

As the rehearsal in Roosevelt’s theater moves forward, a student starts translating Madina’s American Sign Language into spoken English: “I was born in Kenya in a refugee camp as a hearing child. I got sick with a high fever and soon became deaf.”

Another student says: “Her mother and family were afraid she would die.”

Madina does, indeed, have a story to tell. On stage, in this production, she is able to get someone to listen, to take the time and really get to know who she is.
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