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A gifted student shapes his dreams from clay and a trumpet

Honing artistic skills in program for special needs

Editor’s note: Your Dream is Our Dream: Celebrating Student Success brings you conversations with students about their dreams and the and educators who ignite and inspire them. In a new series from School News Network, students from all levels of education share in their own words and pictures how learning connects them to achieving their goals and exploring their ambitions. An initiative of Kent ISD, Your Dream is Our Dream showcases student success and how teaching and learning help make dreams come true. 

Kent ISD – Mahki Trice can’t tell you about his dream, but he can show you. 

He shows you with the colorful letters and shapes he makes from a ball of clay, patiently and intently molding them while a visitor talks to him in the library of the Pine Grove Learning Center in Wyoming. When he has used up the ball of clay, about half an hour later, he jumps up from the table and dashes back to his classroom. 

Mahki’s dream is to be an artist. Judging from his clay creations, he is well on his way.  

Mahki wants to learn the trumpet and has a fine singing voice, his teacher says (courtesy)

He is a third-grader in Michelle Conley’s classroom for students on the autism spectrum. Holding a conversation is difficult for him, but he can read, write, and say words that are already written out. He can also sing, and being a musician is another dream of his. 

“I would like to have a job in art or music,” he says, haltingly but clearly, reading a cue card Conley wrote for him. She had earlier given him three choices of dreams for his future, and he chose this one.

Despite his communication challenges, it’s a doable dream, she says. 

“I think he could definitely be able to sell products with his talent,” Conley says, citing his fine penmanship as a possible opening for calligraphy work such as making cards or wedding invitations. Working with a classroom art teacher, he can replicate other works of art with amazing accuracy, she says.

Mahki is also “extremely musical” and has a beautiful singing voice, she adds. During a recent visit by a drummer from Artists Creating Together, Mahki grabbed the microphone and went to town with scat-style vocals. And he recently got a trumpet which he aims to learn with lessons. Conley sees good possibilities for him in choir and band back at his home district of Kentwood. 

Related: Architect, baker, doctor, best pianist ever: these kids dream big

Teacher Michelle Conley says Mahki Trice has potential for putting his artistic skills to work in a future job

Honing a Special Talent

She hopes he can return to Kentwood next school year and enter general education classes with help from a handheld communication device. For now, he’s learning communication and socialization skills at Pine Grove, a Kent ISD special-education Center Program. He also loves swimming in its pool, riding bikes through the hallways and enjoying the lights and music of a sensory room. 

Mahki likes the feel of clay and that ‘I can make anything’ with it

Mahki is “just doing a fabulous job,” Conley says, noting he’s a great reader. “He’s very, very, very bright.” She is doing all she can to help him develop his gifts and pursue his dream of making art and music, assisted in her class of five boys by two paraprofessionals, Clara Phillips and Leslie Libbett.

“I feel like him having that talent, it’s important to start early to be able to hone that skill, so that he can actually use that and share it with the world,” says Conley.

Mahki appreciates what she and others are doing to help him realize his dream. 

“I love to learn and my teachers are fun,” he says, pausing from his highly focused artwork to read from a cue card.

Then he returns to shaping his dream, one colorful clay creation at a time.

Explore more unique video stories of students learning, interesting school programs and educators working to help all children succeed.

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio


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