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The Magic of Music At Jordan Valley

Under difference circumstances, the singers on the stage at this year’s Canyons District holiday social might have been unsettled at the prospect of meeting a group of strangers. But in the spirit of the season, while singing “Feliz Navidad” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” these Jordan Valley students couldn’t have looked happier.

As Jordan Valley music therapist Caitlin Barney led the students through a set of songs complete with guitars and hand bells, the students looked excited and at ease – and the secret is in the music, Barney says.

Jordan Valley is a special school that serves 120 students from ages 5 to 22 from throughout the District. Each of the students has a severe disability, including autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, seizure disorders, communication impairments, genetic disorders, deaf-blindness or medical frailties.

Communication is a universal challenge among Jordan Valley students, but music is a tool that has been shown to help them cope with some of the difficulties they face.

“Music, in a way, creates a bridge so you can bypass that inability to communicate from the left side of the brain and reach from the right side,” says Barney, the school’s music therapist.

Barney works with each student at Jordan Valley in a group setting of about eight to 10 students per class twice a week for 30 minutes. In class, Barney sets various goals and helps students work toward those goals, such as social interaction, raising their hands to participate, academic skills or teaching students to stay in their seats.

Students dance, sing songs and of course, play with instruments. They take turns strumming Barney’s guitar, tapping the piano and ringing little bells – but there’s one instrument that is the clear winner.

“They love drums. It’s a top favorite,” Barney says.

She loves to see how students become more comfortable in her class and begin to express joy. Through musical performance opportunities, students also gain more confidence, says Jordan Valley Principal Mark Donnelly.

Each year, Jordan Valley students perform a musical, such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Wizard of Oz” or “Peter Pan.” Each year, the students shine as they take center stage.

“Music opens up avenues and parts of the brain that allow our students to relax better and be able to show more of their true selves better,” Donnelly says. “I think music allows them to open up and make the growth they need to make.”

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Lucie Chamberlain

Alta View Elementary

If a movie about super teachers were ever made, Lucie Chamberlain would be a prime candidate for a leading role. Fortunately for her kindergarten students at Alta View Elementary, she already thrives in a supporting role for them. Parents thank her for being a “super teacher.” She is also described as an “amazing colleague.” Whether students need help in the classroom or from home while sick, Lucie goes above and beyond to help them learn, overcome fears, and feel important and cared for. Lucie is the reason a number of kids went from hating school to loving it, according to parents. The way she exudes patience, sweetness, positive energy, and love for her students with special needs melts is appreciated and admired. One parent noted: “Both my kids wish she could be their teacher forever.” Another added:  “She treats every student like their learning and their feelings are her priority.” Super teacher, indeed!

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