Arts festival created for special needs students

“To me, this is a group that does not get to do a lot of extracurricular activities, so they just get left out of a lot of the things most typical kids get to be involved in.”

Trudy Abel, associate professor of elementary education and Collaborative/Special Education program adviser is one of the facilitators of the Very Special Arts Festival, an event for local students with disabilities.

Spring Park will feature the festival Oct. 20 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. If it rains that day, the festival will be moved to the following Friday.

Abel said the event is inspired by Very Special Arts, an international organization for providing arts and education to people with disabilities founded by former U.S. Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith.

The special needs students participating will be able to create various crafts to take home with them and participate in activities, including puppet shows, instrument design and recreational dancing.

The festival’s art activities are divided into performance, visual art, music and sensory discovery stations, with around three activities each.

Abel said the students can choose to visit whichever section they choose or go through all of them. However, none are required to go through specific schedules.

The students are in K-12 and are from Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, Sheffield, Lauderdale County and Colbert County school systems.

UNA students involved in setting up the event are from Collaborative/Special Education, Elementary and Secondary Education programs.

Kappa Delta Pi participants worked through the summer to attract sponsors, and the education students have worked on the festival since the beginning of this semester.

“The activities (needed) to be tiered appropriately in order for the students to be able to take full advantage of the event,” said senior Dustin Phillips, an activity coordinator for the festival.

Abel, along with adjunct instructor Susan Riedel, served as facilitators.

Besides coordination, students will also help teach the activities, perform entertainment and monitor the students to make sure they stay safe.

Abel said she decided to help start the festival after seeing how art-centered the community is, as well as the benefits UNA students in the education program could get from helping with it.

“My number one goal is that these children will have a good time, (having) fun participating in art, music and dance,” she said. “Sometimes, talent will emerge, and some of them may really get hooked on art and music and really be able to use this in their lives for a lifetime of recreation and hobbies,” she said.

Abel said she hopes it becomes an annual event.

Phillips said in coordinating activities, he thinks about his brother, who also has a mental disability.

“As a sibling of an individual who has a disability, it brings my heart joy to see the community involve our individuals with exceptionalities,” he said.

To sponsor the event or participate as a demonstrating artist, contact Abel ([email protected]) or Lamont Maddox, associate professor of secondary education and Kappa Delta Pi advisor ([email protected]).