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Episode 118: Mountain Creek Middle School Students with Special Needs Selected to Represent Utah in the Rose Bowl Parade

It will be the experience of a lifetime for two Mountain Creek Middle School students with special needs. Jaymi Bonner, an 8th grade student who plays violin, and Emma Figueroa, an 9th grade student who plays trumpet, will both be representing Utah in the Rose Bowl parade.

On this episode of the Supercast, find out how the students were selected, what it means to them and how excited everyone is for the dynamic duo. We’ll also tell you about a program called “United Sound,” which is proving to be a source of pride and very important to students with special needs and their peer tutors.


Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Hello, and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. It will be the experience of a lifetime for two Mountain Creek Middle School students with special needs. Jaymi Bonner, an 8th grade student who plays violin and Emma Figueroa, a 9th grade student who plays trumpet will both be representing Utah in the Rose Bowl parade. On this episode of the Supercast, find out how the students were selected, what it means to them and how excited everyone is for this dynamic duo. We'll also tell you about a program called United Sound, which is proving to be a source of pride and is very important to students with special needs and their peer tutors. 

We are here at Mountain Creek Middle School with Karlee English and Cameron Elliott to talk about the United Sound program, which is really exciting. It's well, something that I'm gonna let our teachers here describe. So Mr. Elliott, why don't you start us off?

Mr. Elliott:
All right. So United Sound is a program that gets students with various needs and abilities that are usually in like a self-contained class or a part of a neurodiverse population. And it gets them involved with their neurotypical peers building relationships with kids their age that they don't usually have access to because of their scheduling and other accommodations at the school level. It focuses on building those relationships through music and through doing peer lessons with music teaching. So not only are they learning from myself and Ms. English about music, but they're actually learning from people their age that already play the instruments that these kids want to play. So we're giving them these life changing opportunities where instead of someone coming in and telling them what they can or can't do, we come in and we say, you can do whatever you set your mind to, whatever you want to, and we are here to help do that in any way possible. And we have a team of students that kind of just makes dreams come true every day and focuses on encouragement and the relationship building, making friends and having fun while doing it.

Anthony Godfrey:
That's a benefit that every student gets from participating in a music program. It’s feeling more connected to their peers, and really, I think discovering they're able to do things that they weren't able to do before. You get a sense of efficacy. I try, I work hard, I practice and I get better. Explain what that looks like for United Sound.

Mr. Elliott:
So in United Sound, we're really focused on everything is an achievement. Even the smallest things that people think would be menial in the average music classroom is celebrated. Like it's the best thing we've ever done, because everything that we do about this program is deemed by most people as a challenge. So whether it's putting the instrument together, whether it's making your first sound, if it's being able to read a rhythm correctly, then we pretty much stop class and we have like a mini 30 second party for that achievement. And it gives these kids so much joy to have that. It gives our peer mentors so much joy to be able to support that. And they really start to appreciate the little things in their musicianship, and they start to appreciate the growth in the students that they're mentoring as well.

Anthony Godfrey:
And there's got to be a huge benefit for the students who get to mentor students who are not neurotypical.

Mr. Elliott:
You know, it's something most of them have never had the experience to do. Most of them don't get the opportunity to teach or mentor at this age anyway, but to also do it with such a fun, cool, loving, appreciative population it's very eye opening for them. And a lot of them find a passion for it that they didn't even realize that they had.

Anthony Godfrey:
Ms. English. We are always about inclusion. This seems like a deeper level of inclusion. Talk to me about that.

Ms. English:
I have always been 100% about inclusion. Since I first came here to Mountain Creek Middle School, Mr. Glenn has kind of just given me the thumbs up to, you know, make it a more inclusive school all the way around. So the first year that we had our, if we wanted to call it cluster or self-contained, I approached Mr. Elliott and I said, ‘Hey, I'd love to have some of my kids in band.’ And it was such a cool thing that he, after that conversation, he looked into more stuff and he knew people, he knew about this program, United Sound, and he actually brought it to me. And I'm like, that's exactly what I'm looking for, because I feel like the more you're including what typical kids might wanna do, they wanna do it too. And the funny thing I think is some of these kids are amazing little musicians. We have a young man that maybe is not, you know, just very high cognitively, but boy, he can make a sound on that trombone and he is good. And so like, he is so celebrated in his family with his grandparents among all the peers, among all my class. It's very cool to watch him get so excited because he just excels at it.

Anthony Godfrey:
Now this is a unique program, isn't it? Mr. Elliott, tell us about that.

Mr. Elliott:
Yes, so the United Sound program is a national organization. And they've got chapters all across the country. It started in Arizona, I believe, or at least it's based out of there now at the high school level. And it's since now ventured into high schools, middle schools and even colleges and universities. The closest one to us collegiate wise would be Northern Arizona University has an active chapter so that our students even have opportunities for music when they get older, which is really cool. But the neat thing is that we are actually the first chapter to ever exist in the state of Utah, ever. And so now in the last couple weeks, I've actually had some other directors in this district and around the state that have come up to me and said, so I heard about this United Sound thing, tell me more.

And that's what we wanted. That's what we were hoping would happen. Last year with the pandemic and things we weren't able to do much sharing of what we were able to do, but even last year we were also one of the only chapters in the country that was actually active because we were actually had the time and the space and the protocols here at school to be able to achieve that. So we're really breaking ground here with this organization, but as a national organization, there's so many stories of the good that it's done for these students, for the families. I mean, you see parents just crying because their students are doing things that they never thought they'd see them be able to do in their lives. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Ms. English, tell me about the impact this has had on your students.

Ms. English:
Oh, so we were doing it Friday during our kind of crazy Friday schedule last year and Monday first thing. Oh my gosh. United Sound was so cool Monday. I can't wait till it's Friday. I can't wait till it's Friday. They get so excited. They talk about it all week in my class. But I also have to talk about how it completely affects my students, but I think the biggest impact is actually on peer tutors. I mean, they have never worked with anyone that looks or maybe appears different than they are. And this is such an opportunity that I have actually seen so much growth in their typical peers. And it's in band. It's not like you're in a peer tutor class where you kind of have to do this and have to do that. It is on their own willingness to do it. They actually brought all my students Christmas presents last year, just on their own, like the sweetest thing ever. And they have built this relationship. I know for Jaymi, her peer tutor comes over to her house and helps practice with her. Today, I mean currently. So it has just built this like a real relationship, not like a kind of a, oh, well, I'm a peer tutor at school, da da, da, da. It is like a real relationship. And when they see each other, they're high fiving, they sit at lunch with each other. It's just a beautiful bond to watch what happens within the school. It makes our school a kinder and a lovelier school all the way together. And I do, you have to say, we're very included in every aspect of school here. A lot of my kids are in leadership positions. Jaymi is a student body officer. Emma is on Choose Kind this year. So there's a lot of involvement for all students here to be included in what they want to be included. We don't wanna force this on 'em, but if they wanna be included, we want them there.

Mr. Elliott:
And you hear us keep going back to the relationship aspect. Like that word comes up, but even just as the United Sound organization that's their main focus. It's really about that human connection because that's what changes lives ultimately. Music just happens to be, I think, such a wonderful vehicle for that. Just because of the nature of being in an ensemble and working so closely with someone. But I've seen the confidence in Karlee’s students just skyrocket. I mean, we had one student last that just went from coming into school every day, talking about how he can't do anything. He can't, he's not successful. He's so dumb. And he went from that to learning how to play drums. And all of a sudden, he was a rockstar. I remember with about a month, he's up in front of the classroom telling me he's the smartest kid in the room and that's something we never thought, you know, we would hear out of him.

And so you just see so much growth in their confidence and their self-esteem. In my more neurotypical students that are the peer mentors, you see a huge growth in compassion and empathy, openness and patience. That not only just makes them better musicians, but it makes them better people. I think that's one of the fun things to watch is you just, you get to watch these young adults and teenagers turn into just really the people that we want to see, you know, going out and changing the world in the future and the qualities we want in ourselves on a day to day basis.

Anthony Godfrey:
Obviously these are experiences that are changing every student permanently. And I know it's something that they'll never forget because it takes them outside of themselves. And it teaches them that they can do things they didn't think they could do. And I'm not just talking about learning an instrument. I'm talking about empathy and connection to people that aren't like you. That's a great lesson to be learning at this age in particular. It's a lesson we all could use more of in the world these days. So thank you for your efforts to make this possible. 

Stay with us more with United Sound when we come back.

Break:
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Anthony Godfrey:
Introduce yourselves. Tell us your name.

Emma:

Emma.

Jaymi:

Jaymi

Anthony Godfrey:

Emma, and Jaymi. First of all, first things first, who's going to win the game, the Rose Bowl game?

Jaymi:

Utah.

Anthony Godfrey:

All right. Yes. Emma, do you feel the same way?

Emma:

Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:

Okay. So do I, you're in good company. So the reason we ask who's gonna win the Rose Bowl is because the two of you are performing in the Rose Bowl Parade. That's incredible. That is a sentence I will never say about myself. That is really quite an amazing opportunity. Are you excited to be performing Emma?

Emma:
Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:

What are you looking forward to?

Emma:

Everything.

Anthony Godfrey:

Everything, fair enough. I think everything about the experience is gonna be fun. How about you, Jaymi? Are you excited?

Jaymi:

Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:

And what are you looking forward to?

Jaymi:

I got scared.

Ms. English:

What are you most looking forward to?

Jaymi:

Disneyland.

Anthony Godfrey:

Disneyland? You get to go to Disneyland as part of this?

Jaymi:

Yeah.

Ms. English:

They actually get to perform at Disneyland.

Anthony Godfrey:

You're performing at Disneyland?

Jaymi:

Yeah.

Ms. English:

Not only the Rose Bowl, but also Disneyland.

Anthony Godfrey:

Wow. So you're performing at the Rose Bowl and at Disneyland. That's really exciting. Which are you more about, Disneyland or the Rose Bowl Emma?

Emma:

Disneyland

Anthony Godfrey:

Disneyland. I don't blame you. What is the performance gonna look like at Disneyland?

Mr. Elliott:

The organization that they're actually performing with is called the Honor Band of America. That part of the Music For All organization which oversees a national circuit of marching band competitions and concert band competitions and performances throughout the year. But the marching band arm of Honor Bands of America puts together an honors marching ensemble every four years that is comprised of the top musicians from around the country that audition for this role. And you're talking, you know, All State players from all 50 states. These are the best of the best. They come down to California for a couple of days upwards of, I think, five to six days and they learn an entire parade routine. They prepare physically, mentally, musically to march a five mile long parade,

Anthony Godfrey:

Five miles?

Mr. Elliott:

Five miles. It's insane. They get this awesome custom honor band of America uniform that these two ladies will get to wear as well. And they get to really be the premier high school marching band in the country for that day, and for that time, because of just the high quality musicianship that's happening there,

Anthony Godfrey:

That is so exciting. Now, tell, tell me which instruments do you play? Emma, what instrument do you play?

Emma:

Trumpet.

Anthony Godfrey:

The trumpet. All right. And Jaymi, what do you play?

Jaymi:

Violin.

Anthony Godfrey:

What do you like about the violin?

Jaymi:

Music fun play.

Anthony Godfrey:

Is it fun to play?

Jaymi:

Yeah.

Ms. English:

And it's been fun because her cousins play, so then they get together and they can, you know, do some stuff together on your violins. Right?

Jaymi:

Mm-hmm

Ms. English:

And all her strings are color coded. She can do all her fun stuff. Right?

Jaymi:

Yeah.

Mr. Elliott:

You can see her face light up when she plays. It's just, it's pure joy. It's so much fun to watch.

Anthony Godfrey:
I will be cheering for the Utes, but I'll be cheering more for you. Pretty excited to see you guys perform. Mr. Elliott, show us a little bit about what the sheet music looks like for United Sound.

Mr. Elliott:

So this is maybe one of my favorite things about the program. When we first started, they mentioned to us that they do a modified curriculum and they kind of sent us examples, but then we got to go through these books with them. When you start a chapter, they ship you a method book for each student, that's this line specifically for United Sound. And it takes the typical music notation and turns it into more iconography or symbolic stuff. So for a quarter note we use the word cake and a picture of a cake for a half note, we use the word soup and we hold that out for two beats and a picture of a bowl of soup where the note head would be. And then for eighth notes, we use the words donut. And so when you say a rhythm like a quarter, half, an eighth note rhythm, you might say something like cake donut soup.

Anthony Godfrey:

So it's a little bit of a different version of doe, a deer, a female deer, just all food related.

Mr. Elliott:
Right. For rhythm, for notes, whatever it is, it's things that these students know, can relate to, can recognize the picture. So that wherever the student is cognitively or physically or with musical experience, it's something that's so universal that they can find success immediately.

Anthony Godfrey:

I love this and I love that it makes it simple to begin with, but then it brings everyone along to more and more complex notation. And boy, there's so many levels on which this is exciting for students.

Mr. Elliott:

It goes one step further even, outside of just the method book of once these students kind of master what's going on in the book they are actually given the opportunity to perform with the band and with the ensemble in a concert. And so our peer mentors take this notation that they've been teaching and they write out a part from their concert music for their instrument and they hand write a modified part that I can then go in and put in specific notation software. But our peer mentors have done the work of here's my modified part for my musician. And I can workshop them on, well, maybe this might be a better accommodation, or this might be other than this, but they do most of the grunt work up front and take ownership and responsibility and then teach those parts to our students.
So they learn their instrument, they learn the technique and then they learn how to put it in action. And so our students got to perform with us at our band concert last spring. And that's really what we're working for. You kind of hear this chapter meeting as well or these chapters of, well what's the end goal? What's the end result? And the end goal is for every semester, roughly that, that they get at least one performance opportunity with their neurotypical peers in a typical ensemble setting so that it doesn't become tokenism or patronizing or charity or anything like that. But it truly becomes inclusion. And it's so fun because they're on stage performing and their peer mentors are right there next to them during the performance, giving up their opportunity to play, to sit next to the student and help them be successful. Very similar to what's gonna happen with Emma and Jaymi when they go to the parade in a couple weeks.

Anthony Godfrey:

I absolutely love that. The fact that it's genuine inclusion and there's no culminating activity like a live performance. There's a deadline, it's happening. And that is real and it's genuine. And to have everyone involved and again, like you said, you learn to rely on each other, you know that you need each other in that performance as part of an ensemble and what a great lesson for everybody involved. There's nothing like genuine, deep inclusion that really builds relationships and skills and confidence. And I'm thrilled that the four of you are at the forefront of this effort in the state and that the two of you get to go to the Rose Bowl and to perform at Disneyland. And I'm sure this is something that's going to gain momentum in the state with great example you're setting for inclusion and for just becoming great musicians, Jaymi and Emma. So congratulations, great work. I'm really proud of what you guys are doing and I can't wait to see you perform. Thank you Jaymi. Thanks Emma.

Emma:
You're welcome.

Anthony Godfrey:

Thanks again. Thank you so much.

Anthony Godfrey:

Best of luck to Jaymi and Emma, as they head to California, we'll be watching with pride. Thanks for joining us on another episode of the Supercast. Remember education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see out there.

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