The Inspire Choir, made up of special education high school students, brought joy to the holidays with its fourth annual Christmas concert, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” on Friday, Nov. 30 at Citrus Valley High School.

The concert featured 22 students from two living skills classes taught by Christine Hearon and Daniel Brown. Paraprofessional Cindy Van Horn, who has a background in youth choral music, directed the concert.

The students filled each song with energy and enthusiasm to the delight of a theater filled with friends and family.

“It was most fantastic. There wasn’t an empty seat which was unusual and exciting,” Van Horn said after the show.

Van Horn helped create the choir and concerts to give the students a musical program of their own in which they could express their great love for and ability in music.

The program is unique in being entirely for special education students. Normally, special education students are immersed into entry-level general education programs.

“By having this choir our students are featured as special performers, allowed to be who they are and are celebrated for what they can do,” Van Horn said. “It allows them to sing a little off key and give a sassy performance.”

This year’s concert featured Joseph Supanghat who sang three solos in what was his last concert.

He has been an audience favorite singing with loads of passion since the choir began.

The choir performs in two concerts a year — spring and Christmas — and the students have benefitted greatly.

According to Van Horn, the rehearsal and concert process teaches them organization, how and when to sit still and listen to direction, memorization and more. A multitude of studies show that learning music also benefits student academics, Van Horn added.

Carson Schumacher said she loves to sing at the rehearsals and hearing everyone clap at the concert.

Participating in the program also improves the students’ confidence as they gain experience speaking and performing in front of others.

Van Horn says since the formation of the choir she has had several students who were largely non-verbal grow to where they now “talk up a storm” and can introduce themselves to anyone.

The district is now working to build on the choir’s success by introducing it to elementary and middle school special education programs.

Kingsbury Elementary has already begun its program and the Tutties took the stage for one song Friday night. A music enrichment program will start for middle school living skills classes in January.

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