Inclusion is so important. It can be done, and it can be done well.
More Than Music
This early education program enables children to achieve the seemingly impossible.
It is Read Across America week, and a room full of 5-year-olds echoes with Dr. Seuss-themed songs. There is singing, dancing, and a smile on every child’s face.
On the surface, this appears to be a fun, interactive music class. But it is so much more.
The University of Alabama RISE Center is an early childhood education facility that provides educational experiences for children with special needs, alongside traditional learners ranging from 8 weeks to 5 years.
Dawn Sandell is a full-time music therapist at the RISE Center. Her role involves targeting the therapy goals of students with special needs through music and other creative activities.
Sandell leads large group therapy sessions several times a week and small group sessions once a week. The sessions are always different, as Sandell usually plans songs and activities along weekly lesson themes, such as shapes.
“Music is such a universal language,” says Sandell. “The children love music in general. They’re naturally motivated by it, and therefore more likely to
participate. They’re having fun and enjoying it without realizing they’re working on such important skills in the process.”
Sandell regularly collaborates with the RISE Center therapist team, which includes a physical therapist, occupational therapist, and speech and language pathologist, in order to plan sessions that will assist the children in working toward their goals.
“The most rewarding part of this job is seeing children accomplish things that doctors told them would never be possible,” says Sandell.
“Seeing them meet those goals and knowing you were a part of that is one of the greatest feelings.”
In addition to serving as full-time music therapist, Sandell leads the RISE Center bell choir, the annual graduation program, and the RISE and SHINE play group program.
RISE and SHINE was put into place to increase services available to children and their families. The play group program enables families of children with special needs to receive services and assistance that might otherwise be inaccessible to them.
RISE Center Director Andi Gillen says, “My hope is that RISE is able to increase and expand the services we’re providing to better meet the needs of the community. We want to continue to be a model for the University for student inclusion. Inclusion is so important. It can be done, and it can be done well.”