Food for the Soul: Special Education and United Sound Bring Music to Campus


Lauren Hsu

Sophomore and mentor Garrett Lee shows junior and mentee Justin Silva where to place his fingers on the saxophone. For beginner students like Silva, memorizing the location and placement of the many fingerings for the instrument can be difficult, which is why Lee must undergo training in the form of videos and books in order to be able to effectively teach his peers how to play.

By Kate Hayashi and Lauren Hsu

From the Clean-Up Crew to its mail delivery system and gardening program, the Special Education department is constantly finding ways for its students to get involved in the school community. As of this year, they have partnered with the music department to participate in United Sound, an organization that arranges training services and financial support for schools in order to provide students with developmental disabilities access to music education.

“We have a lot of students who love music, and they come out of their shell a little more when they have music around them,” education specialist Desiree De Santos-Shaffer said. “It helps them feel more comfortable.”

United Sound uses a mentor-mentee system, with two or three general education mentors working with one special education mentee. Students who were interested in participating as mentors were required to take a survey about their background in music and their preferences regarding their role in the program.

The results of this survey helped the special education department pair mentees with their mentors based on the instruments they play and their personalities. The mentors selected to participate possessed an obvious passion for teaching and could be depended upon to take their responsibilities seriously.

“I really like teaching, especially music,” sophomore Chloe Moon said. “I feel like music is something that everyone should be able to do, or have a chance to do.”

With the help of instructional videos and additional assistance from Shaffer and special education department chair Melody Resendez, mentors learned different methods of teaching music that are more easily understood by the special education students. These alternatives include using comparisons to foods and colors to reinforce complex musical concepts.

Mentors also gained insight on how to foster an inclusive learning environment and how to be flexible with their mentees’ needs.

“The biggest thing I took away was that anyone can learn an instrument,” freshman and mentor Cameron Stewart said. “Even if you are special needs, you can still accomplish anything.”

Mentees will receive a chance to show off what they have learned alongside other instrumental groups at the annual spring concert. They will perform an original composition created by their mentor with guidance from band and orchestra director Desmond Stevens.

“I am looking forward to learning about guitars but also to meeting new friends and having lots of fun,” junior Justin Silva said.

Shaffer and Resendez said they believe that learning an instrument will provide their students with a new creative outlet, as well as help them improve their communication skills every time they enter the music classroom.

“Music is a language. It’s another form of language for some of our students,” Resendez said. “It really opens up that door of communication for them, just like for the students that currently participate in the music program — it feeds their soul.”

This story was originally published on Portola Pilot on October 23, 2019.