Every winter, while MSJ freshmen and sophomores fervently practice for their annual P.E. dance unit, a different side of MSJ is also busy with their own dances. For the past nine years, the students in the Special Education Department and MSJ Best Buddies have joined in on the fun with dances taught by Adapted P.E. Teacher Jennifer Lucas. On December 19 during the second and third P.E. periods, these students performed their own holiday showcase complete with yoga balls, jingle bells, and enthusiastic clapping from the audience.
This event, organized by Lucas, has been an annual occurrence, save for last school year when Lucas was on a leave of absence. Because the dance unit is conveniently placed right before the winter break begins, the aid staff and students collaborate to devise simple steps for the students to learn and pair with a holiday song. For Lucas, it was about making an experience appropriate for children with special needs. “We thought this was a way to pull [in] those children that may not necessarily follow a dance or get up and do [all] that,” Lucas said.
Each of the different classes sported their own vibrantly decorated T-shirts. During second period, the class of N-9 wore blue shirts while dancing to “Like It’s Christmas” by the Jonas Brothers together with members of MSJ Best Buddies. Third period then featured dances from the other three classes. Led by Paraeducator Tai Chang, the first group, consisting of the Intensive Instruction students in all red, brought metallic yoga balls to bounce along. Next was the Daily Living and Life Skills Program under Sujata Singh, who were dressed in snowy white, lastly followed by the Adult Program class wearing pine green. While the general education P.E. classes, their teachers, and even district officials watched, each class moved to a medley of Christmas tunes, such as “Jingle Bells (Minions Remix) and Glee Cast’s “Jingle Bell Rock,” with their respective teachers leading them in the front. “Seeing everyone happy and dancing carefree really reminds me of why I joined this club in the first place … we hope [we can] make the experience more memorable for the Buddies [by joining along],” Best Buddies President Senior Priyal Jain said.
Despite the event being a hit with most of the audience, there was still a significant lack of student engagement. In previous years, general education students would get up to dance with these students. This time, however, most of the cheering came from teachers and district officials. “[Ultimately] I hope [we can] achieve more openness and participation within our club,” Best Buddies Vice President Junior Colleen Yu said. Through this event, the goal is for general education students to encourage special education students in their creative expression, a sentiment that should be followed even during the rest of the year.
Although the Special Education Department’s P.E. dance only happens once a year, several of MSJ’s clubs host year-round volunteer opportunities to assist students in the Special Education Department. For students hoping to get involved with fostering a more inclusive school community towards neurodiverse students, both MSJ Best Buddies and MSJ Friends of Children with Special Needs are on-campus organizations that focus on bridging the gap between special and general education students. Recently, they collaborated in their Winter Wonderland Crafts event and in February, MSJ Best Buddies will be supporting the Special Education students in a districtwide Special Olympics. MSJ Best Buddies club members also meet with the students in N-9 during Read and Advisory on a regular basis. “It is important and continues to be important for the whole student body to see all students as all students … everybody at MSJ is a student and equal,” Assistant Superintendent Human Resources Zach Larsen said.