We are proud to announce that Academy360’s Musical Performance Program, led by long-time music teacher Linda Feldman, has been chosen for the 2019 NAPSEC Award for Leadership & Innovation in Special Education. Each year a committee of educators from NAPSEC (National Association for Private Special Education Centers) chooses a nominated program for this honor. Criteria for the award include programs that have been in existence for at least one full school year, have demonstrated positive results through data collection, research, and documented change, and have resulted in new methods for program operations.
This is the second year in a row that Spectrum360 has received this honor. Last year, our FilmAcademy360 program was chosen as the 2018 winner. We are so proud of our staff for their innovative thinking and focus on the abilities of our students.
Here is the program description that was submitted for the award.
Spectrum360’s High School Musical: Personal Growth Through Performance
Spectrum360’s students face significant challenges. With autism and behavioral disabilities, they struggle with self-esteem, anxiety, depression and the constraints of their disorders. Spectrum360 offers as normal a school environment as possible while providing students the support needed to achieve success.
We embrace the performing arts as an essential part of student learning. For many students, our program is their first opportunity to thrive in a creative setting. The performing arts has allowed our students to acquire critical new skills while improving their socialization and communication skills.
From its inception, Linda Feldman has been the backbone of this program. In the 29 years that she has been teaching general music, chorus and instrumentation at Spectrum360, the program has improved the lives of an ever-growing portion of our student body. In addition to the core programming at the high school level, the performing arts program produces a bi-annual major musical production.
Mrs. Feldman’s motivation to create this musical initiative came from her classical music training and music education. Her Master’s thesis in Special Education focused on the importance of performance as it effects increased self-esteem in students with autism and behavioral disabilities. Mrs. Feldman recognized that building upon small successes allows students to increase their confidence. Through the performing arts and ultimately the fully staged musical productions, she uses these building-block activities to build students’ self-esteem, help them socialize with their fellow students and learn to interact before large crowds.
Spectrum360’s performing arts program begins in pre-K, allowing students to learn to express themselves through music and movement. As the students grow and mature they perform increasingly complicated songs, poems, and instrumentations. Through these performances, their confidence grows and their interpersonal and social skills improve. By high school, they are ready for a fully-staged musical.
Recent performances include The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, The Little Mermaid and this year’s production, The Lion King. Each production has been more sophisticated than the last, with participation by an increasing number of students. This year over 100 students will participate. These popular performances run two nights to sold-out houses. The program has had to move twice to a larger venue. The on-stage performance is open to everyone and includes students who use facilitated speech devices to communicate as well as those who are shadowed by staff.
Mrs. Feldman holds high standards for the productions and the students rise to the occasion. This expectation, coupled with her relaxed attitude about learning, allows her students to take risks and strive for their best. When students participate in any aspect of the production, the impact carries over into other academic and social areas. Confidence gained from successes in this sphere produce students who are willing to try new experiences and are not afraid to make mistakes in other situations. The camaraderie developed by working together builds long-lasting friendships, which can be challenging for individuals with ASD.
Participants in the musicals have exhibited evidence of;
- Increasing volume in speaking voices
- Increased self-esteem
- A lessening of maladaptive behavior
- Increased eye-contact when speaking to others
- Increased focus which carries over into other daily activities
- More appropriate body language and greater comfort with the proximity of other people
- Increased happiness and self-fulfillment, as well as a feeling of normalcy
Spectrum360’s performing arts program has an impact beyond the involved students. Our entire Spectrum360 community, including staff and students, can watch their fellow students perform. They are proud and excited and many students aspire to become part of the program. Parents, extended family, and friends attend the performances and derive a special satisfaction knowing they are just like actors in any other high school play.
Thanks to our performing arts program, our students blossom into confident ambassadors who show the world that their disability does not define them.