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Sandy Journal

Students perform musical numbers in Jordan Valley’s Showcase

May 25, 2017 02:46PM ● By Julie Slama

Students perform in “Finding Nemo” as part of Jordan Valley’s Disney Spring Showcase. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Jordan Valley students took the stage to present 10 musical numbers in their Disney Spring Showcase.
“This gives students a chance to be smiling on stage, having a sense of accomplishment and independence,” school music therapist Sarah Mortensen said. “Performing on stage allows them to have a similar experience as their peers.”
Jordan Valley students have severe multiple disabilities including autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, seizure disorders, communication impairments, genetic disorders and syndromes, deaf–blindness and some who are extremely medically fragile. The goal at Jordan Valley School is to improve the quality of life for students, age 5 to 22, and their families.
One way staff and faculty do this is to include all 120 students in a spring performance, with each class showcasing a different song. Faculty and staff supported students, pushing them in wheelchairs or having iPads help them with their lines.
The showcase replaced their annual musical as Mortensen was hired shortly before the April 19–20 event.
“It was important that these students could still have a spring performance, so we divided it by classrooms with some teachers planning their own choreography and props and others, I coordinated. The art therapist created backdrops, the speech, physical and occupational therapists, nurses, aides, office staff, achievement coach — everyone — helped out.  It was a total school effort,” she said.
Mortensen said the theme was selected because many students watch Disney films and are familiar with the songs. The songs they performed include “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” “Circle of Life,” “Whistle While You Work,” “The Unbirthday Song,” “Life is a Highway,” “Hakuna Matata,” “I’ve Got a Dream” and “I Love to Laugh.”
“We practiced the songs with movement beforehand, but once they took the stage, it’s a lot of sensory for them with stage lights, music and even the audience. We want it to be a positive experience that will help build their self-esteem,” she said.
Throughout the year, students attend music class twice each week for about 30 minutes each session. Mortensen opens the class with the same welcome and ends with a familiar goodbye song, involving students to strum her guitar or tap on a drum. 
In another part of the class, she may distribute instruments, from shakers to drums, allowing students to play along.  She may change the rhythm of the songs, playing from a slow beat and increasing to a faster beat so students learn to keep the beat. They also are encouraged to dance or move to the beat.
“The students are learning to communicate through music from making a choice of what instrument they want to play to following directions of how to behave in class, respect their instruments and participate in class,” Mortensen said.
She said that even through choosing instruments, the students demonstrate communication.
“They are able to show their preference of self-expression,” Mortensen said.
Students also gain skills in both gross and fine motor skills as well as interact with others during their ensemble pieces.
“We integrate classroom curriculum so we could work on shapes, colors and counting to reinforce what is going on in their classes. Through music, we often reach kids through a different medium,” she said. 
The culminating activity is the spring performance where students move, play and perform.
“It’s their moment to shine. When we see one little thing, it’s an improvement and it’s worthwhile,” she said.