Art meets autism

For the past twenty one years, students from the Hi-Star Center for Children in Glendale have performed a full-scale musical production that’s free and open to the public. During a recent trip to Hi-Star, I spotted photos of prior productions hung in a row around an entire room behind the reception area.

The Other Wizard of Oz. The Other Seussical. The Other Grease. The Other Beauty and the Beast. The Other Nutcracker. The Other Cinderella. The Other Mikado.

Soon they’ll have photos of the 2011 production, “The Other King and I,” being performed this Thursday, May 26 at 7pm at the Alhambra High School Auditorium in Phoenix. It features Hi-Star students ages 5-18 performing “a slight variation on the original Rodgers & Hammerstein musical.”

I learned of the Hi-Star Center for Children after one of two co-directors, Susan Sorgen-Jones, got in touch to share that she’s been a Raising Arizona Kids reader for nearly two decades — and that my son and her daughter went to the same school for a time.

Sorgen-Jones shared that the school’s co-director Kristin Texada is a speech pathologist and former professional ballerina, and reminded me that Raising Arizona Kids once interviewed her husband for a story on the Wolf Trap Institute.

Jeff is a professional musician and teacher who works with students at several schools, including Hi-Star. The day we visited, he was drumming for the children as they acted out the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Aesop would be proud.

Sorgen-Jones describes Hi-Star as a small special education school that has “programmed for children in the autism spectrum for over 25 years.” She considers the fine and performing arts component of their curriculum one of its “most exciting aspects.”

During a recent tour of the school, I saw all sorts of student artwork — including works featured in the following slide show, which also includes photos of students readying for their big performance of “The Other King and I” Thursday night. I’m partial to the painted pet rocks.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Those who attend “The Other King and I” this week will enjoy familiar songs like “Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Getting to Know You,” and “Shall We Dance?” And, says Sorgen-Jones, they’ll get to see “what great abilities our special needs children possess.”

“The power of the the arts, the music, dance and performance often thrusts the children into a new level of courage and confidence about themselves and learning,” reflects Sorgen-Jones. “These performances provide an incredible opportunity to teach language and social skills to our students.”

— Lynn

Note: I hope those of you with costumes you no longer need will contact Hi-Star to see whether they might be able to use them in upcoming productions.

Coming up: Worlds apart?

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