Every day after nutrition break for about an hour Mrs. Amy Cruz’s music class is filled with students wanting to learn how to play music.
Except these are not her regular education students at Bonita Vista Middle School. These students are in moderate special needs classes. Many of them are autistic or have some other disability that interferes with daily activities.
Their speech is limited and they have little interaction with regular education students.
The Exploring Arts Program started about two years ago when the school’s Music Honors Society searched for ways to improve their school and community through music. The society thought about teaching the special needs students on campus who did not have access to music.
“It was just the neatest thing to see this bridge happen between the general education students and the special education students,” Cruz said. “And it’s great for the special needs kids to have music because there’s all these studies about what music does for the brain and for learning. But really the lives of the general education students, their lives are changed forever having worked with these kids.”
What started out as a volunteer program turned into an actual class last year and Cruz, with the help of four instructional assistants, teaches special needs students how to play the recorder, make beats and keep up with rhythm.
Students receive credit for completing the class, which is an achievement because Cruz said special education students are non-diploma bound, meaning they will not get a high school diploma once they leave high school.
“So for them to get the same credit as anyone else is huge for them,” she said.
The program has received funding from the Sweetwater Union High School District to purchase musical instruments that are better fitted for special students who have dexterity challenges.
The goal is to get these students performing live at a Winter Concert and once more in the spring.
“The idea here is that they are performing at the same school performances as anybody else,” said principal Eduardo Reyes.
As the special needs students enter the classroom, they go through a series of warm ups, banging sticks together and rhythmically beating a drum. Once the kids are done with their warm up exercises, the remaining of the class is dedicated to learning how to play the recorder.
Student mentor Alexa Gomez said the special needs students enjoy learning how to play the recorder.
“They are really excited to come here and just play instruments and enjoy everybody,” she said. “They don’t really care if they mess up. They just like to have fun.” Alexa said.
Just two weeks in the semester some of the special needs students have learned how to read music notes.
Cruz said she hopes Bonita Vista Middle School leads the way in instituting a district wide program where special needs students will participate in music classes.
“This should be happening at every campus,” she said. “All of the kids deserve this opportunity.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Amy Cruz. The Star-News regrets the error.