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The City Journals

A chance to dance

Jun 06, 2017 02:54PM ● By Jet Burnham

Taylorsville senior Jessica Hammond said making friends with Kaitlyn Roberts was her favorite part of the whole school year. (Granite School District)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected] 

Allie Westenskow loves dancing—she dances all the time, said her mother Kim Westenskow. But there are few opportunities for kids with special needs to perform for an audience. Allie and 23 other special needs students from Hartvigsen School were thrilled with the chance to perform a dance with 24 girls from Taylorsville High School’s drill team, the Chirons.

 The Chirons and the Angel Chirons, as the girls from Hartvigsen were named, danced to “Under the Sea” during an assemblies at THS and Hartvigsen School.

The Chirons were excited to share their love of performing with the Angels.

“I know performing makes me feel amazing, so I’m glad they got to experience it,” said THS senior Shaylee Bundy. She loved the opportunity to team up with the Angels.

“I hope they got half as much as I got out of it,” she said.

 Hartvigsen’s speech pathologist Pam Rex Staggs said the collaboration was an opportunity for all the girls to interact in a way they hadn’t ever been able to before.

“This gives the THS girls a whole new perspective of special needs and what they’re capable of,” Rex Staggs said.

She said the partnership aided the Angels with social language development, providing them an opportunity to communicate and interact with their peers.

Rex Staggs knew her students would love an opportunity to dance. Because her daughter-in-law, Alisha Staggs, is head coach of the drill team at THS—right next door to Hartvigsen—she knew they could make it happen. Staggs, who was focusing on an anti-bullying campaign for her upcoming Mrs. Utah pageant, saw the partnership as a great way for her team to get out of their comfort zones to make new friends.

Every other Monday all year long, the Chirons headed next door to Hartvigsen’s campus to work in pairs with the Angels, who range in age from 15 to 22.

The Chirons had participated in an exercise to experience what it felt like to have physical and verbal handicaps, but it didn’t prepare them for how much they would come to love their partners.

“It's sweet to see the girls, how they treat them with love and concern and are so cheerful,” Rex Staggs said. “There is so much positive energy in that room.”

Taimane Lewis, a sophomore, connected with 15-year-old Isabelle Dal Canto over their common love of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Camryn Olson, a Chiron, was surprised how easy communication became.

“It’s incredible how they communicate differently, but it’s all about hugs and physical connections, talking and touching,” she said.

Shaylee Bundy figured out that the Angels responded well to a thumbs-up and positive encouragement.

Jessica Hammond, a senior Chiron, was paired with Kaitlyn Roberts. 

“She likes when I shake my hair,” Hammond said. “We connected because I figured that out.” Hammond found that if she used big movements, Roberts would laugh and be more engaged.

Parting at the end of classes became more difficult as the girls became friends.

“It was wonderful just to watch the bond between the girls,” Staggs said. “Tears flow when it’s time to leave.”

Staggs said the project has been a humbling experience for her drill team.

“We’ve not had as much drama this year. It is a reminder of what’s more important in life,” she said.

Hammond said girls got out of the experience what they put into it.

“It meant the world to me,” she said. “It was my favorite part of this whole year.” The experience helped her be more aware of people with special needs.

“I know now there can be a real connection there,” Hammond said. “Even if I can’t talk with her, I can have a really deep and true friendship—(Kaitlyn’s) my friend.”

Kim Westenskow said her daughter was excited to finally perform for an audience.

“She said she was going to dance with her girl friends and be like the Disney Channel,” Westenskow said. “She feels like any other girl out there.”