“Thank you” – that’s what Frank Gayaldo traveled from Lodi, California, to tell a handful of Stillwater Public Schools special education teachers and paraprofessionals.
Last December, they traveled to Northern California to help roughly 120 special needs students put on a concert using kazoos, bells and scarves and ribbons that danced through the air.
“When you see these teachers in their element … it is incredibly inspiring,” Gayaldo said.
Jason Riggs, a fourth-grade teacher at Sangre Ridge and son Oliver, 7, who has Down Syndrome, were the emcees for the event.
“Stillwater Public Schools was the first school district in Oklahoma to incorporate music therapy into their special needs programs,” Jason said. “Music therapy has helped Oliver with his confidence and with learning letters.”
Rona Tracy, who attended with daughter Willa, 10, who also has Down Syndrome and is mostly non-verbal, said it is great that music therapy is being recognized.
“We were very fortunate to have music therapy in schools for one year,” Tracy said. “We miss it so much. It is absolutely critical because some children don’t respond to anything except music. Music therapy has been the single most important part to Willa’s progress. She is non-verbal unless you put words to music. Her favorite song is ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider.’ Stillwater Public Schools has a wonderful special education program. I just hope and pray that they can bring music therapy back.”
Districts aren’t required to offer music therapy and the full-time position previously held by Robbin Buford was eliminated due to budget cuts a few years ago, though music therapy continues to be part of special needs programs.
Last December, Gayaldo reached out to Buford because of her extensive experience with special education and music therapy, and asked her to help put on a first-of-its-kind concert only weeks later.
Buford rallied a group of special education educators to help including Robin Atkinson – early childhood developmental delayed teacher for 3-year-olds district-wide – along with Susan French and Andrea DaPron, both special education paraprofessionals who also work with 3-year-olds at Sangre Ridge.
“We don’t do this for the recognition, we do it for the kids,” DaPron said.
Blake said it is easy to support their desires to help children.
Gayaldo thanked Moore for his willingness to let the teachers help children outside the district.
The special education teachers are in the early stages of planning a trip to Shanghai, China, next summer to help implement music therapy programs there.
With 1.379 billion people – nearly 20 percent of the world’s population – Gayaldo said there is a huge number of children with special needs that would benefit from music therapy.