Tonight when the audience hears Morgan, a student at HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy, narrate "The Return of Halley’s Comet," a collaborative production between HMS and The Philadelphia School, he will be telling the story using his Tobii I-15 communication device, which he accesses through eye gaze technology. Words and sentences are printed on a screen on his device. He simply looks at the word or sentence he wants to say and the device generates the words.
"The Return of Halley’s Comet," written by Philadelphia music therapist, composer/playwright Andrea Green, is a metaphor for the process children from HMS and TPS go through each year to perform a musical together as part of HMS’s 33-year old collaborative musical theater program, Something Magical, which uses experiential learning to immerse able-bodied students into a project with children with special needs. HMS leaders believe this is a more effective way of educating students and their educators about diversity as it applies to individuals who have different learning experiences.
“Our students were nervous going in. Although we prepared in advance, none of us knew quite what to expect,” says TPS Junior Unit teacher Laura Matheny, whose combined fourth and fifth grade is producing the show with the HMS students. “As we got to know the kids individually, we’ve all felt connected with the HMS students.”
"The Return of Halley’s Comet" examines what happens when non-verbal "Haliens" descend into the town of Centuryville, and must win over the local residents who fear them because of their differences.
According to Green, the students are unconsciously acting out a parallel story.
“Our students learned that they can’t tell everything about people just by looking at them,” says Matheny. “They recognize now that there are different ways of communicating with people. It’s made them willing to go into a situation without just rushing into a judgment about someone based on what they look like or what their initial impression might be and realize what they might have something in common. For instance, some of our students discovered that their partner also liked Taylor Swift, so when we visited HMS, they were at the computer pulling up videos together.”
The final performance of "The Return of Halley’s Comet" will take place tonight at 6 p.m. at HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy, 4400 Baltimore Avenue.