It’s a singalong jam session and dancing lesson, and for the seven special-needs students in Burnaby Central Secondary, the hour with music therapist Don Hardy is pure joy.
“For these students, it’s all about stimulating the senses and selfregulation – helping them calm down. It improves their overall cognition and helps them focus,” says life skills teacher Inderjeet Ranu. “It’s a very important part of our program.”
The students have severe learning disabilities – autism, praderwilli syndrome (a genetic disorder), or are confined to wheelchairs.
The time they spend banging on drums, playing a xylophone or ringing bells while singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm and the Cat Came Back, followed by doing the cha-cha and Irish jigs, is the highlight of their week.
“These students don’t get very many chances to participate in programs, so we want them to have access to this so they can enjoy it,” Ranu says.
But there is more to it than that. Some of these students will be going into independent living once they graduate. What they get from music therapy will help that transition.
“You can see the teamwork, how they co-ordinate with each other,” Ranu says over the noise. “They are taking turns, making eye contact. For us, eye contact comes naturally when we have a conversation, but for these students it’s very difficult.”
“You can see they are making eye contact with each other and with Don,” she says as Hardy, on his portable electric piano, leads them through the old Manfred Mann chorus of Do Wah Diddy Diddy.
By the end of the session, they are past making eye contact and are dancing with each other.
Hardy has been teaching music therapy since 1992.
“I’m semi-retired and I only do it two days a week now. From here, I’m going to Killarney (Secondary in Vancouver) to work with a quadriplegic student who uses a mouth stick to play a digital drum,” Hardy says.
But Ranu fears that the music program won’t be available much longer, as it has run out of funding.
“We had a sponsor, but they have withdrawn funding and are not able to do it this year.
“This is so important for the development of these children, which is why I’m asking for help from The Vancouver Sun,” Ranu says.
She is asking The Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $3,000 to keep the program going.
“We will have to close without help,” she says.
The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program last year provided more than $600,000 to schools across the province to help feed and clothe needy children and for other necessities.
The fund also provides money for special-needs programs or for children who require therapy to deal with the trauma of their living conditions, or in the case of refugees, what they have experienced in their homelands.
So far this year, the Adopt-A-School program has received more than 50 applications from schools totalling $410,000, with more coming in.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)