When choir teacher Julie Cherry started at Roseburg High School two years ago, she had an idea.
She wanted to create an all inclusive choir group that would welcome all students. She read about the all abilities group at the Indianapolis Children’s Choir and wanted to see how to implement the idea in the secondary choral world.
The opportunity presented itself in the form of an already established group. New Voice was originally a show choir, but last year’s group decided it wanted to change the entire dynamic.
“Last year, there were a couple of DLC (Developmental Learning Center) kids that were coming to the rehearsals. We as a group decided that we wanted those kids to perform with us,” Cherry said.
According to the Roseburg Public Schools website, the Developmental Learning Center (DLC) provides “specialized instruction for students with a focus on functional daily living skills and independence.” This is one of many options for special education students that the school district offers. When the group decided to include these students, Cherry put a call out to the parents of those DLC kids, inviting them to practice and perform with what Cherry calls peer students.
“We completely switched our focus the rest of the year to including more of those kiddos. This year, we have made it much more intentional. It’s how we advertised the group, we wanted to get peer singers that could be paired up with our DLC kids and sing with them,” Cherry said. “We made it an all abilities group, something I had wanted to do for a long time.”
The choir had close to 10 students last year, with two of those being from the DLC program. When the second semester starts next week, the group will grow to 15 peer singers and nine DLC students.
Freshman Skylee Pettit said she joined because she saw how many DLC students wanted to be involved and she wanted to help include them.
“I saw how many DLC students we had and I wanted to be able to work with them daily, because they are always left out,” Pettit said. “Being able to join them in choir, being able to help them bring their creative side out, is something I really wanted to do.”
The class is set up differently than most choir groups. Two-thirds of class is spent with peer and DLC students working together, while the last third allows Cherry and the peer students to collaborate on the pieces the students will be working on.
“It really helps everyone in the group to be cooperative and find a way to include the DLC kids more into our performances rather than everyone just going along with a basic program,” explained sophomore Monica Hammond. “We actually sit down and have discussions about what kind of movements we want to do, what kind of songs we want to do, what would be easier for the DLC kids and what would be easier for us as a group.”
Sometimes the collaboration between peer and DLC students can be hard. Special education students need special considerations, forcing the peer students to think outside the box when it comes to communication.
“I think one of the things that these students are learning day by day is the difference between receptive and expressive language,” Cherry said. “Sometimes, expressive language might be a difficulty for some of our DLC students but their receptive understanding of language can be much higher. Figuring out how to communicate back and forth is one of the biggest challenges for our students in this class, but they are doing a lovely job.”
Sophomore Kate Belden sees these communication lessons as one of the biggest benefits of the class.
“I think it improves us because we’re able to learn different communication skills because we are working with people with disabilities,” Belden said. “We are able to learn how to communicate differently.”
The group is open to all Roseburg High School students. They are not a competitive choir, thus no auditions are necessary.
“Anybody who has a heart for what we do is welcome here,” Cherry said.
The public will be able to see the New Voice choir during the Spring Choir Concert, which will be held at 7 p.m. March 10 in the Rose Theatre.
“I think the thing I would take from this is how to treat others,” Belden said. “Everybody knows the golden rule, but not everyone really embraces that. I think working with our buddies shows us how to respect other people, how to be positive, to be cooperative and to have fun in your life.”