Leaning over 7-year-old Victor Hamm, Eastside Elementary special education teacher Stacy Cook guided the young boy’s hands while he glued colorful beads onto a folder. “Good job,” she told her student. “You’ve done excellent.” Next, Cook picked up colorful foam cutouts shaped like feet. Squirting a dollop of white glue on the folder, she instructed Hamm to line them up. Taking his hand, Cook spread his fingers on top of the foam pieces and helped him push them down into the sticky circle to make them stay [photo: Brittany Crowder, from Killbuck Elementary, puts the last styrofoam dot on her project in the craft section at the PG Gray Festival Thursday morning. The Herald Bulletin].
“Excellent,” she said with encouragement in her voice. “It looks great.”
Victor turned to look at his teacher, his eyes were shining.
Victor is one of approximately 350 special education students from Anderson Community Schools who participated in the P.G. Gray/VSA arts of Indiana Festival held at the Kardatzke Wellness Center at Anderson University Thursday.
With everything from music and painting to dance and yoga, the festival is designed to introduce the students to the arts.
“The importance of today is to show the students they can express themselves through the arts,” said Pam Nicholas, director of VSA arts of Indiana, an organization that makes arts accessible to people with disabilities. “It’s a day of lessons on what is possible for the future.”
And the children loved it.
“We did it, woo-hoo!” exclaimed 7-year-old Brice Hickman jumping up after completing the “snake” in the yoga section of the festival. “I learned to do all kinds of stuff today. I’m having fun. I just like playing.”
Nine-year-old Brinna Waymire also said she was having the time of her life. “I did some music and then we did yoga,” she said. “It’s just a fun time!”
The festival was set up in approximately a dozen different stations ranging from learning to playing the harmonica to painting and drawing. With two sessions, a morning session and afternoon session, classes would rotate and be exposed to three different arts each.
Not only is the festival designed to offer fun, but the students took away so much more from the day.
"This gives them an outlet to do something they may not normally be exposed to,” said Peggy Carter, special education teacher at Killbuck Elementary. “It gives them a chance to be out and play with other children. Today is a day where they are not considered ‘special,’ not different, but just number one. Every child gains knowledge of experiences such as music, yoga and dance. Those experiences, those interactions are so important for these kids.”
The festival began approximately six years ago in this area and is named after the son of Paul Gray, coordinator for the festival, Anderson University professor of kinesiology and coordinator for the Special Olympics of Madison County. “My son was learning disabled and was in special education classes,” said Gray. “When we named the festival, he had recently passed away.”
Gray said the festival is open to any special education student age pre-school to high school.
“We only have ACS students here this year but if others are interested in the area, we welcome anyone,” he said. “It’s gone so well. Teachers and students look forward to this every year. With my involvement with the Special Olympics, I know the importance of physical activities for these kids but the arts are just as important. Art needs to be part of their lives. This is a perfect collaboration between both physical activities and arts activities because we have dance and movement as well as painting and pasting and drawing.”
---Lynelle Miller is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin in Anderson. Story and photos re-posted with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 60 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.