Durango High School students twirled and bounced around the room Wednesday to the sounds of pop hits as an instructor encouraged them to mingle.
Stillwater Music, a Durango nonprofit, began offering the free inclusive music and dance classes this year at the high school to bring together students with and without disabilities. So far, the class has been a popular “treat” for students, said Amber Main, special education teacher.
The dance and music class is held once a week during an independent living skills class with “peer influencers” – students without disabilities – who are already in the class working as mentors, she said.
The program has also been held at Riverview and Park elementary schools.
Stillwater would like to continue to expand the program into additional schools to foster relationships between disabled and nondisabled students, said Jeroen van Tyn, Stillwater’s executive director.
“Giving them opportunities to do things together is always a challenge, period,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen enough.” But making music together and dancing is a natural fit for students with different ability levels, he said.
The DHS class on Wednesday was the first music and dance class of the semester, and Main was pleased with how peer influencers jumped in to participate in the class of about 20 students, she said.
“They went in and they just killed it. ... I love that there is so much inclusion and acceptance at DHS,” she said.
As part of the class, Stillwater Music instructor Gabrielle Dugan asked students to take turns dancing in pairs to hits, such as “Hula Hoop” by Omi, as the music moved them.
The selection of popular music helps students feel comfortable and sets a tone for the class like a school dance, Main said.
Special education student and freshman Erik Ornelas said he really enjoys music, particularly songs that feature a saxophone and trumpet.
“It calms our bodies down,” he said of the class.
Sophomore Maddie Napier said she wanted to be part of the class as a peer influencer because she hopes to work with disabled students as an adult.
“I love how happy and open they are,” she said of students with disabilities.