MEAC in Baltimore City
MEAC, benefiting students with severe disabilities in Baltimore City
The William S. Baer School – bringing Theater to medically fragile students
The performance of A Celtic Tale, a magical story all about Merlin and his apprentice creating magic dust was embraced by all attending students. One of the highlights was watching a new student, Cherice completely connect to the MEAC experience. Cherice is new to The Baer School, and finding the transition difficult. Cherice is in a wheelchair, she is verbal and functioning on a cognitively high level, but emotionally her teacher told me she is struggling with being placed in a special education school. When she arrived in the morning, Ms. Joanne greeted her and asked her name. Cherice was too shy to speak to Ms. Joanne, but was obviously fascinated by the artist’s make up and costume. As soon as the play began, and Ms. Joanne began dancing the introduction ballet, Cherice began to imitate every movement Joanne made. Her face lighted up with a beautiful smile. As the play unfolded she continued to use her hands, arms and facial expressions to express the story-line. Her face expressed joy, when the character of the apprentice was expressing love and kindness, she was determined when the apprentice needed Cherice to help conjure up a spell for magic dust, her eyes went wide and she looked concerned, when the apprentice just did not know how to create magic dust. But when that was achieved by allowing each student in the room to offer love and kindness, Cherice was so happy to dance and celebrate. The Magical Experience show allowed Cherice to show us all, students and staff, who this lovely young lady is. She was so comfortable with the interactions, and obviously connected to the emotions being expressed. The performances could offer this student a wonderful opportunity to process her feelings about being at The Baer School, and hopefully help her feel she is loved and respected by so many.
The Chimes School – making Theater accessible for students with autism
The students achieved a high level of expressive development during the first year of MEAC performances, but at times the students became distracted due to the environment where performances took place. To remedy this, instead of performing in the gym, Joanne asked if it would be possible to try a more intimate environment. On September 7th, the four downstairs classrooms were invited to bring their students into the ‘cool off’ room. This room is usually used for students to take time to cool off from a behavior. The room offers a quite space, with floor mats, a swing and other activities that have the ability to relax and comfort a student in distress. Joanne converted the room into a wonderful cocoon, with theater backdrops, props, gentle music, a smell of lavender filling the air, and a lighting source made from a string of fairy lights. Twelve students were able to fit into the space, along with 9 staff members. The staff did seem very surprised by the change of venue and were concerned that the students were in too small a space.
But it was soon evident that the students felt more secure, and less likely to get up and run around or become distracted by the activity of the gym. The students and staff were also much closer to every move and emotion displayed by Joanne, this encouraged far greater eye contact and physical interactions from the students; it also encouraged staff to be more engaged in their observation of student responses.
The experience also enabled students such as Matthew to have their required space from other students, but be much closer to the artist than before. It was also wonderful to see a staff member make a special comfort corner for Isiah, who for the first time was able to stay in the room and experience MEAC for the duration of approximately 30 minutes. Over time this can Be extended to a full 55 minutes. The students were focused and interactive throughout, the only students to leave before relaxation were Isiah and Matthew. Staff feedback was extremely positive about the space.