By Jacob Kersh and Alexis Kominos
Lights, camera, action! On Friday, March 1st, the Glenelg Broadway Connections program (GBC) performed their unique interpretation of the ‘first day of high school’ in front of a tremendous crowd. The performance, starring a combination of Glenelg students with special needs and our very own Theatre Department, was truly a marvel to experience.
The play took place between fifth and sixth period, and all grades and classes were encouraged by administration to attend. The auditorium was completely filled with Glenelg students and staff who came together to support GBC’s months of hard work. As director and theatre instructor Ms. Kassidy Sharp silenced the crowd and introduced the cast, the story began. Featured characters were first shown going through their respective morning routines before the first day of school, which included waking up, eating breakfast, and riding the bus. They then took turns depicting their daily encounters at Glenelg. The audience laughed and cheered as the cast humorously acted out scenes such as struggling to sit through class, eating lunch with peers, and interacting with friends. Many of these scenes even featured break out musical accompaniment, which viewers could not get enough of. The finale—a heartfelt rendition of Sister Sledge’s hit classic ‘We Are Family’—even received a standing ovation.
After the performance concluded, Glenelg students could not stop talking about how amazing it was to see in person. Some even mentioned that it was the highlight of their school year so far, as did Junior Sierra Bowman. “As a peer tutor, I work with special needs students every day—and they are the sweetest, most pure kids you will ever meet,” Bowman said. “Watching them completely nail that show almost had me in tears. Each and every person on that stage has such unique personalities, and I think being on stage in front of everyone really gave them the ability to let that part of themselves shine.” The verdict: students and staff throughout Glenelg were truly touched by GBC’s performance.
Although the large majority of our community expressed how much they enjoy watching GBC live, only a select few are aware of what takes place before and after their annual showing. Behind the scenes of this program lies a close-knit team of students and staff working together to promote a sense of positivity and inclusion within Glenelg High School and beyond. Year round, peer mentors assist their intellectually and developmentally disabled classmates in learning music, acting, and choreography.
The program originally rehearsed and performed all shows at Loyola University, but has since relocated to Glenelg’s auditorium to make it more accessible for the Glenelg community. According to director Ms. Kassidy Sharp, “It is financed by an outside organization called Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts and its sister company, Toby’s Dinner Theatre. They provide funds for the entire performance, and made it possible for us to accomplish what we were able to this year.” Additionally, this is GBC’s nine-year anniversary, so it appears that this partnership is going nowhere anytime soon.
The experiences that students with special needs engage in during GBC not only transitions into a beautiful performance for the entire school to see, but also provides them with an extraordinary sense of belonging that they can cherish for the rest of their lives. According to Senior mentor Delaney Smith, “GBC allows students with special needs to feel accepted. It lets them interact with their peers in a way that makes them feel like part of the community, and gives them a place where they can make friends without judgement. It also offers them the chance to accomplish something—in this case, putting on a performance they have worked on for months”. This unique opportunity is perfect for helping students with special needs to develop a sense of self-purpose that sitting in a classroom all day simply cannot provide.
Regarding this year in particular, student mentors went to great lengths to improve the GBC program as a whole. One of the ways they did so was by steering away from having an excessive amount of peer involvement. As stated by Smith, “When I joined this program three years ago, everyone would constantly be whispering lines into kids’ ears or just reciting their lines for them. This year, we tried our absolute hardest to let them to do as much as they possibly could by themselves. Many of the kids who needed communication devices were also encouraged to push the buttons on their own instead of having us do it for them.” Overall, upholding this standard clearly helped mentees to feel much more involved than they did before.
Another concept mentors specifically focused on was trying to relate to their mentees in a personal way. “Rehearsing and practicing with them was all about being super patient and kind. We really wanted them to enjoy spending time with people who actually paid attention to what they were saying, so we tried to relate to them in any way we could,” says Senior Reagan Youngmann. Youngmann also stated that Ms. Condon—Glenelg’s speech pathologist—was extremely helpful in making sure everyone could communicate with one another.
Within both this year’s performance and beyond, the Glenelg Broadway Connections program has been instrumental in promoting the engagement and inclusion of students with special needs. Although the program’s direction for next year has yet to be revealed, one can be sure that they will continue to maintain a positive environment for all who are involved. Stay tuned for more information!