Mail Tribune - 3/20/2019
March 20-- Mar. 20--Jennifer Clark knows what it's like to learn how to support a child who has autism.
"This has changed our life," she said. "No one plans for this, but all these years later ... we can now say what a blessing in disguise this is."
She said that the support offered by professionals in the Medford School District has made a positive impact for her son Mason's development. Tuesday evening, she gathered with families from across the district to celebrate him and other students who receive special education services from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Medford School District's fourth Ability Awareness Gala brought together students, families and friends to celebrate those students' abilities in two scheduled hours of dances, music, poetry and speeches.
"This is an important event," Jennifer Clark said. "We're very thankful that the district takes the time to put on an event like this for our children."
Students in special education work with personalized learning programs and navigate challenges in an educational system that is still adapting to meet their variety of needs.
Tania Tong, Medford's supervisor of special education and student services, mentioned two programs the Medford School District has implemented in recent years to improve outcomes for students receiving special education services.
The first is the co-teaching method, where special education teachers work with teachers in general education classes, coordinating to keep students with Individualized Education Programs together with their peers.
Tong also highlighted the district's peer mentor program, which pairs students with disabilities with students who are in general classes. The program spans kindergarten all the way through high school, and, as students testified in a video played during the gala, impacts and teaches both kids in the partnership.
Student performers brought some of the liveliest parts of the evening, with impressions, dances, poetry readings and singing.
Taylor Thomas, a student at Central Medford High School, pulled some audience members to their feet as they applauded her performance of "This is Me" from the 2018 movie "The Greatest Showman." The film embraces a similar message to the Ability Awareness Gala -- of inclusion, acceptance and appreciation for a wide variety of abilities and appearances.
Kemy Joseph's keynote speechfocused on different aspects of resiliency, and Mason Clark took the stage with his classmates from Griffin Creek Elementary to recite Shel Silverstein poems. Their artistic interpretations of their poems was displayed as each one read. The audience laughed and called out encouragement.
Celebration, after all, was the point.
"We really wanted to honor disabilities awareness month in different way by celebrating the talents, gifts and capacities of our students who experience disabilities," Tong said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.
This story will be updated Wednesday.
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