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Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers: Special Needs Students Shine Onstage


With superhero capes to go with their super-wide grins, Oriole Park Elementary students sat in a circle, passing around an invisible “whoosh” from person to person. Students threw out their hands with animated flair during the warm-up drama exercise.

Minutes later, after a round of reciting “Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers” to loosen up their vocal chords, the Wyoming Public Schools special education students were ready to show off their acting chops, developed over 10 weeks working with an artist-in-residence who specializes in theater.

After lots of practice, it was showtime.

During their play, “The Habit Heroes,” the caped crusaders swooped in to teach youngsters with messy rooms, homework stresses and other challenges how to be leaders. The play was based on Oriole Park’s leadership curriculum.

“I came to help you with Habit Number 2,” said a blue-caped superhero to young actors struggling through a basketball game. “Have a plan!” he exclaimed, describing how to “Begin with the End in Mind,” one of the seven leadership skills students learn. With a vow to keep practicing, the students finished the scene.

After the performance, third-grader JuandeDios Escobar chatted proudly with his classmates.

“It was awesome,” he said. “We did a lot of hard work.”

Oriole Park Elementary student Adam Lagerwey reminds students how to be a leader
Oriole Park Elementary student Adam Lagerwey reminds students how to be a leader

Growing through Arts

Students in special education teacher Laura Sluys’ class worked with Demy Marti, an artist with Artists Creating Together, a Grand Rapids-based non-profit organization that provides artist-in-residency grants for students with special needs across Kent County. At Oriole Park, students have worked with ACT artists for the past several years, on projects focused on drumming, paper mache, puppetry, ceramics and dancing.

This year’s session was all about preparing students to take the stage. Marti taught students warm-ups and “silly things” to help them become comfortable performing for their peers. They learned about props, characterization and costumes, and practiced reading scripts and acting out scenes.

Her goal is to help students gain the confidence to stand up in front of an audience and to be proud of the work they create. It takes time for some to come out of their shells, she said.

“We had some kids who wouldn’t even stand up and do warm-ups with us, and now they all know the exercises from memory,” she said.

Sam Solis shows his superhero muscles
Sam Solis shows his superhero muscles

Sluys said the experience is invaluable for her students.

“They get a whole new perspective,” she said, ” Today I said, ‘Guys, you are actors’ and they looked at each other like, ‘Wow! We are.’

“Just the validity of having an artist come in and teach you, and tell you, ‘You can do this,’ is huge. The kids gain so much. They shine.”

With tears in her eyes, Amanda Mata, watched her daughter, Laney Mata, perform.

“I’m thrilled,” Mom said. “I’m just amazed she was able to do that and stand up there and read the script. This is a huge step. She did fantastic.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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