Music machine enables disabled students to join in song
By Lori Berkey
Region – Sarah Muppidi recently played the tambourine on the reggae tune “Three Little Birds” while her classmates participated using other instruments. Muppidi, of Westborough, has cerebral palsy and cortical visual impairment. She used to need one-to-one staff assistance to join her classmates at Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) for music time. Her teacher, Kate Ahern, sought funding for a music machine that would enable students with severe disabilities to play music independently. Now, Muppidi proudly plays her part all by herself.
Ahern works for Marlborough-based Assabet Valley Collaborative (AVC) and is placed at ARHS to teach students with severe disabilities. Most of her pupils are nonverbal, but many are able to communicate via hand-activated devices that use a “switch” or computer screen. According to AVC Executive Director Cathy Cummins, some students use an “eye gaze” technology as a communication tool.
Music therapist Monica Goncalves comes to Ahern's class weekly to engage students in a process where they have fun while working on various skills. Several teacher assistants are also present.
The music machine allows students who don's have the dexterity to play a drum or tambourine to hit a button or squeeze a switch to make the desired sound. Ahern said the music machine is one of numerous devices that help them function more independently. She has used the online charity Donorschoose.org, to obtain about 20 different grants to obtain “helpful” products.
Ahern was drawn to the special education field as a teenager. She provided personal care to a neighbor with autism and volunteered in high school in a class similar to the one she now teaches. She gained a master's degree, has taught since 1997, and loves her job.
“These are amazing kidsâ€¦they may have some very severe disabilities of not being able to speak or walk or use their hands well, but their personalities are just [Ahern gestured with admiration] – they'se all shining stars and have just huge things to give back – so every day is just a joy to come to work,” Ahern said.
She is pleased to see Muppidi's increased participation in class using the music machine.
“She'sl often times look up and then smile and put down her switch and point to all the adults to sort of say, “Did you see me? Look what I did,”" Ahern said.
Ahern's classroom, REACH III, is one of four area classrooms in the AVC REACH program. According to Cummins, the other classrooms include: REACH I, housed at Kane Elementary School in Marlborough; REACH II at Trottier Middle School in Southborough; and REACH Crossroads, also at ARHS.
During music therapy, Muppidi and her classmates are also able to work on social skills. They create songs together and greet each other with lyrics, enjoying their newfound independence.
Ahern has more grants in the works. Anyone interested in contributing to her grant requests can visit www.donorschoose.org, where donors can choose to contribute to her requests or to a number of other teachers” projects. Ahern's projects can be found on the site by entering Northborough as the town and then choosing Algonquin Regional High School.
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