At the end of the last school year, SunRidge Middle School celebrated its first showcase of the Ukuladies — a group of six students from the self-contained classroom (any student with any type of mental and/or learning disability) who learned how to sing and play the ukulele in less than three months.
When the Ukuladies first took the stage, it marked a magical moment for the whole school community. It was a moving moment for everyone present and a testament to inclusivity in the school system and the arts.
And it wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of two teachers — Melissa Breaud and Emily Hart.
Breaud, behavior specialist at SunRidge Middle for more than six years, looked at the students in the self-contained classroom and the school’s choir and saw the passion waiting to be ignited. From there, Breaud brought in Hart, the secretary, to devise a way to encourage musical expression.
“We knew that we wanted to give them something more, so we petitioned the Parent-Teacher Organization of our school to buy a ukulele for every student — free of charge for them,” Breaud said.
Hart became the group’s musical director, and she and Breaud started working every day to help the students learn how to play.
They started slowly, only learning how to strum and play chords. But eventually, the students started learning how to sing along with the strumming.
“Between March and May, they learned one song, and then we needed a performance location,” Breaud said “We solicited the help of our band director, Missy Westermann, and, of course, she said, ‘Yes!’”
Later, when the day of the concert came, Breaud and Hart were not sure exactly how the performance would go. But, they were confident in their students and saw the glow of the performance.
“They had a standing ovation,” Breaud said. “It was so amazing to watch them. They performed like every other band student up there. … They came alive.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the band concert,” she said. “They looked like every other middle-schooler, and the crowd went wild.”
That moment was truly special and gratifying for the teachers, because it was proof of what these students could do when given a chance to shine.
This year, the Ukuladies are going to try to play up to three songs for their next performance. They are even going to expand the current Ukuladies group and have plans to introduce the Ukulads — which would feature boys in the self-contained classroom who want to perform the ukulele for the next coming band concert.