Mead High starts inclusive percussion class
By Amy Bounds, Times-Call
The band program is becoming more inclusive and accessible at Mead High School with the creation of a unified percussion class for students with special needs.
The class is based on the St. Vrain Valley School District’s unified sports program. New this fall, the district also started a high school unified bowling league.
Mead’s percussion class, created and taught by band director Chad Lemons, enrolls six students with special needs and five band student mentors.
Their first performance was Wednesday at the school district’s annual band night. The percussion students performed with Mead’s full marching band for the event.
“They nailed it,” said junior Tyler Bare, a student mentor who plays quad drums in the marching band. “We had them practice with the full marching band so they knew what it would be like.”
He said he signed up for the class based on the positive experiences of friends who help in the unified sports programs and to share his love for percussion.
“I really wanted to be a teacher, especially for these kids,” he said. “They have so much to offer that a lot of people don’t see. Seeing how happy they are when they play music, it’s really fulfilling.”
One of the students in the class, senior Natalie Hansis, said this is her first time playing drums.
“It’s fun,” she said. “I can get my frustrations out.”
She said she “had a little stage fright” before her first performance, but it got better as she played.
“I didn’t mess up at all,” she said.
The student mentors help teach and play along in class, but generally don’t participate in performances. Catherine Cook, a senior, described the mentors as “support people” for the students.
“They can come to us if they need anything,” she said.
She added that other high schools should start similar classes.
“We don’t have many classes where we’re together with the students with special needs,” she said. “It’s just a really good way to unify the student body.”
Lemons said he spent the past school year developing the class after a school presentation on Special Olympics sparked the idea.
“This was an opportunity to build something that doesn’t exist in the district,” he said. “The performance aspect was the key element for me when we created the class. They really are their own ensemble.”
To create the curriculum, he said, he drew on his previous experience teaching beginning sixth grade band students. He also worked with the special education coordinator at the school and with music therapy professors.
“This class is the highlight of my semester,” he said. “The kids are working really hard.”
Parents are just as enthusiastic.
Parent Jamie Mendez said her daughter, Kylee Mendez, tried drumming when she was younger, but didn’t really like it. Now, she said, “she absolutely loves it.”
“Before, it was more just making noise,” she said. “At Mead, the class is actually teaching her music. She comes home every night and practices writing her music notes.”
She added that her daughter tends to be motivated by what others are doing, so having typical kids as part of the class has made her even more excited about drumming. Playing with the marching band for their first performance was another bonus.
“They have the entire band behind them,” she said.
Parent Kristin Parsons said her son, Cole Smith, is a music lover who had already played drums through a Longmont program for a couple of years.
“Music speaks to him,” she said. “We were just super thrilled to have this opportunity. This class is amazing.”
For the band night performance, she added, Cole “had a smile plastered on his face the whole time.”
“You could just see the pride was bursting through him,” she said. “It was so cool. The whole school has embraced these kids.”