BUDA, Texas -- This school year, Hays High School is offering students the chance to bond with a student with special needs through the art of musical theatre.

  • Hays High School theatre course caters to students with special needs
  • Pairs supportive peers with special needs students
  • Has so far proven a success

The course, called Adaptive Musical Theatre with Supportive Peers,” is specifically designed for these students with special needs. They’re paired with supportive peers who help them come out of their shells and dance, sing, and even act on stage.

The class is the brainchild of Hays CISD Theatre Director Lory Stewart. For years, Stewart has been directing musicals for adults who have special needs. She wanted to bring that knowledge to her classro​om. That's when the class was created.

“You don’t have to talk, you don’t have to walk to be a part of theater and to express yourself in a creative way,” Stewart said. “Everyone loves for their child to be a star and everybody loves to be a star so this is their opportunity to really shine and to really have a voice in fine arts.”

With the help of their supportive peers, students are learning to be more expressive and social. A couple days a week, the students are all learning to perform new musical theatre acts. And while it’s not the most traditional of classroom curriculum, the class also has dance parties.

"We have student aides who can help them dance and move around in the circle in their wheelchair or without," Stewart said. "And so it just seemed like a great opportunity for us to have a class that's tailor made and specific for those students. There are some obstacles. But in the end, it's such a positive experience for everyone involved in the class. And that surprised me the most that it was just as beneficial to the supportive peers and the adult aids of our medically-fragile students that they have the opportunity to come out and interact in this musical environment and sing and dance and interact with each other in a way maybe they don't get a chance to normally during the day."

Stewart said in the class’s first semester, she’s seen nothing but growth from all of her students.

“A lot of the students were very hesitant. They didn't even want to sit in the circle, they didn't want to come on to the stage," Stewart said. "We finally got them to get up and start to participate and so each week it seemed like we had another student who was really starting to come out of their shell and engage with their supportive peer and talk to us and dance and sing. So that's really exciting, because we've just seen so many breakthroughs throughout this semester, which is our first semester.”

In the future, Stewart hopes to introduce this course at all of the high schools at Hays CISD.

“Sometimes this is a group that we sort of forget about, and we don't give them that opportunity to really be a part of performing arts. And I just think it's so important. And anyone who is a teacher who wants to try it, I am here to encourage you and give you all the information that I have, and hopefully we can spread this all over,” Stewart said.