Palatine District 15 adaptive music students spreading holiday cheer

  • Brandon, a student with special needs at Gray M. Sanborn Elementary School in Palatine, strums a ukulele held by adaptive music teacher Elise Hackl as he and classmates go holiday caroling through the school building this week.

      Brandon, a student with special needs at Gray M. Sanborn Elementary School in Palatine, strums a ukulele held by adaptive music teacher Elise Hackl as he and classmates go holiday caroling through the school building this week. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Students in Palatine Township Elementary District 15's adaptive music program sang holiday carols for some of their peers this week at Gray M. Sanborn Elementary School in Palatine.

      Students in Palatine Township Elementary District 15's adaptive music program sang holiday carols for some of their peers this week at Gray M. Sanborn Elementary School in Palatine. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Students with special needs, including Kyleigh, right, and Khloe, center, join their adaptive music program classmates in caroling this week through Gray M. Sanborn Elementary School in Palatine.

      Students with special needs, including Kyleigh, right, and Khloe, center, join their adaptive music program classmates in caroling this week through Gray M. Sanborn Elementary School in Palatine. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/19/2019 8:29 AM

Physical or cognitive challenges aren't getting in the way of students in an uncommon adaptive music program spreading holiday cheer through performances at some Palatine schools and an Arlington Heights seniors complex.

Palatine Township Elementary District 15 adaptive music teacher Elise Hackl and seven of her students at Gray M. Sanborn Elementary School in Palatine wrapped up the holiday season Tuesday by snaking through the building and caroling for about an hour outside classrooms.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

With adaptive instruments, such as wrist-controlled bells instead of hand-held versions, the students with special needs led enthusiastic audiences in singing "Feliz Navidad" and "Jingle Bells." One boy strummed a ukulele as Hackl held it.

"They are meeting the same music standards that everybody else is meeting at grade level," Hackl said after the caroling ended. "They're just doing it in a different way."

Sanborn special education teachers Kristy OBrill and Laura Wayman were among the instructors who accompanied the adaptive music students through the hallways. They said everyone benefits by seeing what the special ed pupils can achieve.

"Caroling is a perfect example of an activity typical children can do," Wayman said. "She (Hackl) gave our kids an opportunity to do that today and shine for her in the general education population."

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District 15 officials said the school system is believed to have one of the few adaptive music programs in the Chicago area. The program's students often cannot participate in a mainstream music class for cognitive or physical reasons.

Unlike music therapy, Hackl said the adaptive program places music first, followed by development in areas such as sensory motor skills. She uses a color-coded music note system.

Hackl said she has about 175 students spread across the John G. Conyers Learning Academy and Carl Sandberg Junior High School in Rolling Meadows, and Palatine's Marion Jordan Elementary School, Walter R. Sundling Junior High School and Sanborn.

Hackl led students from Conyers in a Dec. 10 concert at Church Creek Senior Living on Central Road in Arlington Heights, which drew about 200 spectators. That was followed by a concert at Jordan on Dec. 11 and caroling this week at Sandburg and Sanborn.

"Music is such an interpersonal thing and everybody can participate in music," said Hackl, an alum of Buffalo Grove High School's acclaimed choir program and now in her sixth year at District 15. "And this was a way for them to say, 'Hey, I can do this. I have pride in what I'm doing. I'm able to go out there and perform and share that with you and connect with you.'

"And it allows them to have that human interaction with people they may not get every day, or people that are supporting them, they now get to provide that for those students."

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