Maddie Ford, a 16-year-old freshman at New Albany High School, has been drumming for several years.

"Drumming is my favorite," she said.

On May 15, she was able to let her talents shine for an audience.

Ford was part of a group of more than 40 New Albany-Plain Local Schools special-needs students in grades 1 to 12 who participated in a performance for parents and teachers at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts, 100 W. Dublin-Granville Road.

The show was the culmination of the skills they have practiced with Eric Paton, a drummer who taught 42 students as part of a VSA Ohio program funded by an art-experience grant from the organization, said Alyssa Newman, a New Albany-Plain Local speech therapist.

The district has applied for another art-experience grant for next school year, she said.

The value of the grant, which funded two residencies, was $9,000, which went directly to the artists and the cost of their materials, said district spokesman Patrick Gallaway.

This is the first year that the district has participated in the arts-experience program, he said.

VSA Ohio is a member of the VSA Affiliate Network, a program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, according to its website. VSA is an international organization founded by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith in 1974, the website said.

The VSA Ohio organization was founded in 1986 and promotes inclusive spaces and accessible opportunities for people with disabilities to celebrate life through art, according to its website.

Messages left for VSA Ohio seeking comment for this story were not returned before press time.

VSA Ohio pairs the district with a resident artist for the semester, which lasts 15 weeks, Gallaway said.

It is a weekly experience during the school day for both 15-week residencies, he said. The students were able to choose whether to participate, he said.

These types of arts programs are important for students with special needs, Gallaway said.

"It provides them an opportunity to participate, share their work, perform in front of an audience and develop leadership roles," he said. "It is also a lot of fun for the students."

For the first half of the year, the district worked with Wendy Kendrick, Gallaway said. Kendrick taught the students art forms and terms, he said.

"The students really enjoyed expressing themselves through their artwork and sharing the different things that they learned," he said.

For the second half of the year, the district worked with Paton, Gallaway said.

Paton, a Columbus resident, teaches world percussion at Capital University and has been playing drums since 1979.

For students with special needs, especially those on the autism spectrum, low frequencies are preferable to high ones, Paton said. As such, he tunes his drums low, using mallets and playing softly, he said.

"They seem to react very well to low frequencies," he said.

Paton said he had worked with the students in rhythm circles for a few months, using Japanese drums and Boomwhackers, which are brand-named tuned percussion tubes. The goal was to create student-directed music, he said.

Thomas Chizmar, a New Albany resident and father to Jonah Chizmar, an 8-year-old first-grader who participated in the drumming program, said he liked the leadership experience the students had received while they were conducting others in the rhythm circle.

Music is a big part of his life, Thomas Chizmar said, and he has passed that on to his son.

As for Jonah, the boy said he was happy during the performance because he was given a green Boomwhacker -- and green is his favorite color.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

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