Arlington ISD Launches Program Connects Special Needs Students to Instruments, Friends

Every Wednesday after school, the orchestra room at Arlington High School comes alive with the sounds of violins, violas, and cellos — and unexpectedly, a lot of references to food.

But the only thing the students inside are eating up is how to read and play music.

"Instead of quarter notes and eighth notes, we call them cakes and donuts," said Raven Gammage, a junior at Arlington High School and a member of the orchestra. "Then half notes are soup."

It's a bit unorthodox — but there's a good reason for it. Several of the students in the room have special needs and had never picked up a musical instrument until now.

"They relate it to items that the students would already be familiar with," said Andrew Goins, Orchestra Teacher at Arlington High School. "And it's something that's very rhythmic that they'll already understand, so that they can make those connections quickly."

And making connections is what this program is all about — not just with music, but with people as well.

All of the teaching is done by other orchestra students — their peers.

"It gives our students the opportunity to look outside themselves and do something good," said Goins.

It's the brainchild of a national organization called United Sound, which promotes music accessibility. They partnered with Arlington ISD to launch this pilot program at Arlington High School, the first of its kind in Texas.

Goins says he had more students sign up to volunteer than he had students to teach.

Those who are working with the new musicians say they've been pleasantly surprised by what they've seen.

"[One of our students] Travis really picked up on everything quickly," said Meghan Williams, a senior at Arlington High School and one of the volunteers.

"Honestly, we were running out of stuff to teach him because he was picking up stuff so fast. He's amazing."

"[Another student] Stephanie today, she totally surprised us," said Teddy Holloway, a sophomore at Arlington High School and another one of the volunteers. "She was telling us a ton of jokes. We had a lot of fun."

They'll get the chance to showcase their newfound talent. The students will perform during the orchestra's concert in December.

District officials say they hope to expand the program to more schools in the future.

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