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Students learn to work together in new combined choir class with exceptional learners

Maddie Mills-Craig, Staff Member

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Last year when senior Brooke Barkley was first approached by choir teacher Jennifer Gafron about joining a new combined choir class with both students from general education and the exceptional learners program, she eagerly agreed. But on the second day of school, she entered her R6 class nervous and filled with butterflies, unsure of what to expect and whether the other students would like her.
“It was a little quiet just because there was a separation because we didn’t really know each other,” Barkley said.
Her nerves were quickly settled when junior Dell Brantley promptly introduced himself and began to converse with her. When Barkley discovered that she knew Brantley’s sister, it helped break the “get to know you” stage.
“Right now, it hasn’t been that long since we’ve been in the class and we already know each other and we talk everyday and we play games. It’s really fun,” Barkley said.
Barkley joined Gafron’s new choir class out of interest in a future career in musical education, while Brantly joined out of enjoyment for singing. For him, making friends comes naturally. So on the first day of class, he was filled with excitement instead of nerves.
“I was very excited. I like singing and I like the first day of school. I just had a good feeling that it’s going to be a good day for me,” Brantly said.
Brantley’s positive outlook is just what the new and unique choir class created by Gafron needs. Unlike her other choir classes, this one is made up of students from general education and the exceptional learners program united by an interest for music. The choir class is like any other class with the exception of educational games to help teach students the fundamental parts of music. Exceptional learners teacher Matt Deinlein is co-teaching the class with Gafron. Together they are preparing the class for the winter performance on Dec. 13 through games and lessons.
“We’ve kind of taken teaching music and made it more hands on and kind of aesthetic. We’ll use boom whackers to teach matching pitch. We’re learning how to do beats and rhythm and understand what quarter notes are and half notes and we have lots of activities similar to that,” Deinlein said.
Gafron had the idea of a combined choir from seeing it other places and wished to make it a class here at LN. She’s very passionate about with working with kids who have special needs and sees music as something anyone can do or enjoy. Her goal is to have her class perform once a semester to show off what they’ve learned, but mainly to teach students to accept differences in others.
“In Mr. Deinlein’s class it’s about teaching them musical skills. But then for my kids, the buddies, it’s about learning how to accept differences and that everyone can have the same abilities while being very different people and opening your mind to accepting others,” Gafron said.
In order to create a new class, Garfon had to go through a process where it first to be approved by principal Brett Crousore, then the administrative board through a written proposal.

Once they approved, she had to make sure that enough students signed up to fully make a new class.
“I presented it to them and thought this would be really good for both the special needs kids and my kids. They loved it and they thought that it was going to be a great idea, so then they took that idea to Dr. Goeglein, who is the superintendent of secondary education,” Gafron said.
The choir class is preparing for their upcoming show in Dec. 13. They will be performing “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. This was a popular choice among the majority of the class. Deinlein is unsure how the students will participate in the performance but wants to make sure that they play an active part in the concert. This can be through assisting with lighting, sound system or even with instruments. But Gafron and Deinlein are using class periods to prepare them for whatever role they’ll eventually play in the concert.
“Typically we’ll get everyone together and give them the schedule of what we’re going to do for the day and we do fun things too. So we’ll start off with basic warm ups and get everyone up, moving and stretching. Then we’ll go through their vocal warmups as well and then after that we usually have our activities and that’s when the ‘beats and seats’ comes out. Finally, we’re prepping for the concert. Obviously we want to be well prepared for that so we started working on ‘Thriller’ and we’ve done a couple of run throughs of that, and it’s been alright. We wanted to pick something that was in the interest of a lot of our students and Michael Jackson was at the heart of all of them,” Deinlein said.
To Barkley, the class is the perfect opportunity to collaborate with people with whom she doesn’t usually interact. In the beginning she thought that it was a difficult adjustment to a new class with different people, but once she got situated she realized that they’re just like any other person. Now, Barkley often interacts with her new friends from the class.
“It feels a lot more comfortable than I thought. Because often we don’t really see the special ed kids a lot of us. They’re all in their own little hallway and they’re kind of separated. But having to work with them one on one kind of just reminds you that they’re our age. They’re doing the same things we are, they just have to do it in a different path due to to whatever disability they have. It just kind of reminds you that they’re still tenagers. They’re still us,” Barkley said.

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Students learn to work together in new combined choir class with exceptional learners