In 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
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.
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
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.