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Sandy Journal

Disney songs help showcase growth of Jordan Valley students

Jul 07, 2023 09:05AM ● By Julie Slama

Jordan Valley students are highlighted in their Disney showcase with the help of the school staff. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Maren Feller was 8 years old when she came to Jordan Valley from a Sugar House traditional elementary school.

“We came to meet the principal at the time, and there were eight people who were there who said, ‘what we do is we build an education around each and every individual student and that’s what we want to do for your daughter,’” said Maren’s mother, Brennan Feller. “We decided this was a good place for her and here we are, years later.”

One thing her mother appreciates for the 120 students is that there is a ratio of eight to 10 students to four or five teachers.

“That’s been a huge difference. Maren had a hard time communicating when she was younger. She just would communicate in a different way,” said Brennan Feller about the diagnosis of apraxia, where her daughter may say a word related to the subject, not being able to say the word she meant. “Sometimes, Maren would say stuff that we wouldn’t understand, and she get frustrated that she couldn’t express herself. Intellectually, she’s very intelligent and can understand everything. She’s very smart and intuitive; she just has a hard time voicing it. Other times, she’d use sign language and other times, she’d get frustrated, and that resulted in my daughter’s behavior; she was definitely more difficult, and they have been able to help her with that.”

One of the things Feller has appreciated at Jordan Valley is being part of the spring showcases and performances.

This year was no different. Her daughter’s face lit up and a smile broke across her face when she saw her parents, her grandfather, her friend and babysitter.

She, along with students in every class at Jordan Valley, performed “Disney Through the Years” that featured songs including “Bare Necessities,” “Under the Sea,” and “You Got a Friend in Me.”

Feller, who is partially verbal, and others communicated through the Cough Drop app on an iPad. Staff joined the students on stage in both performances to sing, dance and move along with them in front of a packed audience.

The showcase was coordinated by Dana Leal, Jordan Valley’s music therapist.

“It seems like every kid knows all these Disney songs and loves them,” she said. “We wanted the students to be the spotlight, but we also wanted to show our students are working on being more independent in their communication. That’s why we had the students introduce themselves with the help of the iPad. Most, maybe 95% of our students, are nonverbal so that device allows them to have their own voice. We worked with the speech team, and they worked with the kids in their classes every day to say their name. We started slowly on everything and added to it each class so it wasn’t too overwhelming and it kept it fun for them.”

More collaboration was made when some students incorporated learning about Spanish music and instruments that they learned about during National Hispanic Heritage Month into their performance or merging the words, “You’re Welcome,” they learned in American Sign Language into their performance.

“Overall, we want to engage our students; we have small goals they learn during the year that result in making a big difference in the end,” Leal said.

For example, Jordan Valley Beverley Taylor Sorenson Dance Specialist Eric Shiring, who developed the choreography and movement for the show, said he began introducing movement in December.

“A lot of this came from a lesson teaching about shapes—circles, triangles, squares and identifying shapes,” he said. “I used a visual to say this is a triangle and then we would discuss the aspects of a triangle and how can we make that shape with our body. I’d have them mimic mine in a shape or motion it and maybe it was with their finger, then we’d use that in our dance.”

 In January, those movements turned into repeating patterns and students dedicated half of the 30-minute classes to practice them when they met every other week.

Some of the students made their own shirts for costumes, others used props.

“Some of the classes like sensory and some of them don’t. We adapted for every class wherever we needed to,” she said. “We just always are trying to meet the needs of our students and give them what they need to feel most comfortable and confident in what they’re doing.”

Even with dress rehearsals in front of staff leading up to the showcase, Leal said it was a “little bit of a shocker” to some students to see standing room-only audience. Others loved it.

“We had one student who didn’t want to come up on stage with his own class, but then once he did, he liked it and didn’t want to leave,” she said.

Shiring said a highlight was the collaboration of the school staff.

“Everyone came together to make this work. To see the students working with other students, sensing the excitement, it’s such a joy. I just think of (one student) and he was just smiling on stage. In class sometimes he’s a little disconnected or he’s off doing his own thing, but on stage, he and other kids just light up. It’s cool to see the staff be a part of this experience because they’re important in this community. It’s just really rewarding to see the students, the teachers, the staff and our parents come and be a part of this process and this accomplishment,” he said. “There’s a camaraderie here and it’s just wonderful to feel and be a part of.”

Leal said it took everyone’s help to coordinate getting students from class onto the stage as others exited it. When there were behavioral issues, the staff was there to step in.

“The staff was supporting one another because we wanted this opportunity for the students and for the parents to see their students do something that maybe they don’t get to see them do as often as typical students might do. Your typical student has sports games and dance and choir performances. Our students don’t have access to that here at the school, so we wanted to give them their shining moment on stage. Most of our students were overjoyed when the music started, and they saw their families. They just got excited,” she said.

Feller was one of those who loved the stage.

“She is so funny. She loves to be the center of attention and was excited telling me about a microphone,” her mother said. “I really enjoyed the show. It’s been fun to see all these kids grow up because a lot of have been in the same class, so you really get to know them. You see them grow and you just have a soft spot for those kids because we shared experiences. This time was kind of bittersweet because it was her last year so she’s a bit emotional. I was just so proud of her and how far she’s come over the years.”

Feller and her Jordan Valley classmates graduated May 19. Feller, who is 18 and participates in swimming, track and bowling with Special Olympics, will attend Canyons Transitional Academy.

“Jordan Valley has absolutely been a life changer for us in our family. The staff are such patient, wonderful people who are invested in the kids that they have become like family. They have opened communication between our daughter and us and given us those tools to continue,” Brennan Feller said. “We’ve been able to watch Maren blossom into the young woman she is and just to enjoy being herself, which we saw on stage during the Disney showcase. It’s been an incredible adventure for us. We’re nervous, but excited for the next chapter.” λ