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Parents of Special Needs Kids Plan Fundraiser to Bring Music Therapy to the Classroom

Music program has been successful spreading joy, now they want to incorporate music into the curriculum

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Neptune Beach Elementary School has a wing with seven classrooms, for children with moderate to severe medical, neurological and physical special needs. The school services children from the Beaches and throughout Duval County with diagnoses such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Rett syndrome, Sanfilippo syndrome and other conditions.

A music program was started at the school one-and-a-half years ago to offer kids classes by Bach to Rock or Kindermusik every Monday. The program, which is completely funded by a few parents who create and organize community events, has been very successful. Parents and teachers have noted increased learning and joy since it started and reported improvements in endurance, engagement and attention. We know that it makes a positive difference in their lives; the joy in the classrooms is palpable during Magical Music Mondays. For a parent of a nonverbal special needs child, simply seeing the child's face light up with a huge smile at the sound of music can be a rare and precious gift.

Candice Morris Sample says that the program encourages her seven-year-old daughter Evie's love for music, which began in infancy. "The notes speak to her and, when given the opportunity to play an instrument, her smile is illumination and it gives her a new voice," she said, adding that the program has helped foster a particular appreciation for classical music and inspired the family to take Evie to symphony performances, where she is riveted by the sounds, especially those of brass instruments. "Music enriches her life and furthers her development," Sample says of her daughter, who has Rett syndrome, "which is why we love having this program at Neptune Beach Elementary."

We would now like to add music therapy to the program. Music therapy, or MT, is similar to other modalities such as speech, physical and occupational therapies in its approach and educational requirements for the therapists. The two music modalities would complement each other to create positive outcomes. The current music program brings the children together to learn, experience joy and learning through music and instruction; MT would be conducted by a certified therapist who will utilize assessment, planned indicators of desired behavioral outcomes and document results. There is evidence that when MT is combined with the other above-mentioned therapies, the outcome for children with special needs is significantly improved. Children who may not respond to a single therapy are inspired by MT and start to talk, move and respond.

Throughout generations, music has been used as a method for healing physical and cognitive illnesses; it can also neutralize negative emotions and enhance natural stress tolerance levels. For kids with special needs, music therapy can have a powerful impact on learning. We at NBE would like to start music therapy in the fall to complement our current music program, but we need community support to do so. Steve Amburn, a licensed music therapist, is currently conducting a 10-week pilot at the school to obtain quantitative data to support the initiative in the fall.

St. Johns County/Special Needs classes, Nemours and Wolfson all offer community-funded music therapy programs and we believe that it is a vital modality to assist our children to achieve positive outcomes and make strides to access their potential. Cristel Fernandez, whose six-year-old son Rowen has Sanfilippo syndrome, has seen the positive effect of music firsthand. "Rowen is nonverbal, so music is able to meet sensory needs," she says. "He is not limited by his abilities and never labeled by what he cannot do, but included for what he can." The kids in this program have limited ability to communicate and learn, many are immobile or have limited mobility, compromised vision or hearing and are nonverbal.

Over the past few years, the parents have managed to fund the music program; however, to maintain and enhance the initiative with MT, we need community support. We are looking for assistance with funding through sponsors, grants and donations.

The festival we're holding features Jacksonville bands The Firewater Tent Revival and Cain't Never Could, as well as the NBE Xylophone Club, singer and NBE music teacher Leighton Serlo, and our very special children with Bach to Rock, will perform. There will be food, a silent auction, raffle, a kids' Star Wars costume contest, play areas and much more. So, please, come out, have a great time and help our kids.

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Demuth is the mother of a Neptune Beach Elementary School student.

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