Non-verbal kids can ‘sing their hearts out’

Non-verbal kids can ‘sing their hearts out’

“They have difficulty with words, but when we bring in a music therapist, they sing their hearts out. It’s a form of communication for them.”


There is no lack of determination to make life easier for some students attending Burnaby Central Secondary. It’s the money that’s missing.

For instance, the extra curricula music therapy program that the school’s learning support services teacher Sandra Perrotta feels is so necessary for her 40 neuro-diverse students.

She struggles to find the money to pay for it.

“We have students with autism, Down syndrome, attention deficit and other intellectual disabilities. A lot of my students are non-verbal and we started the music program to help them communicate,” said Perrotta.

“They have difficulty with words, but when we bring in a music therapist, they sing their hearts out. It’s a form of communication for them.

“For some reason they are able to sing. Some of them can communicate by responding to the music by hand gestures,” she said.

All of which explains the effort she and her students make in trying to raise the $100-a-session fee needed to hire a music therapy specialist to come to the school.

To find the money, they scour the school’s recycling bins for bottles and cans every day.

“The custodians know to leave them for us, and after lunch our students go with the education assistant and collect them and we bring them to the recycling depot. The money we get is how we pay for music therapy,” said Perrotta.

A portion of the money is also used to finance the food she needs to buy to show students how to prepare meals as part of her life skills program, which teaches them to cook a simple meal, as well as such tasks as using a dishwasher, doing laundry, using a debit card.

But the earnings from the recycling and other fundraising events, such as selling pizza and samosas during times the school’s cafeteria is closed, isn’t enough to keep the music and cooking programs operating as often as she would like.

“We can only do our music program once or twice a month, and we’d like to do it once a week. For these kids it’s really important for their social and emotional well-being.”

So is the cooking class, as it has become a way to integrate her students with others attending the school.

“There’s a leadership group that I can call on. I invited them to come in and cook with my students, which really helps my kids because a lot of them have social anxiety and it’s hard for them to connect with other students.

“Being in a big school like this can be overwhelming to the point they are scared to walk through the hallways to get to the school bus.

“It’s a lot of mental health stuff we are trying to support, so when the leadership group made breakfast with my kids … for the first time they weren’t scared of them,” said Perrotta.

To ensure she has sufficient money to buy food, hire a music therapist as well as providing clothes and other necessities for some of her students who are living in poverty, Perrotta is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $11,500.

The school also seeks $5,000 for a breakfast program to feed students coming to school hungry. Teacher Daniel Cooper said some days he sees as many as 100 students wanting food.

By Gerry Bellett (

Get Involved. Share the story or donate now.

More Info  Donate