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Sophie Sings the Body Electric

posted Thursday January 27th, 2011

We’ve been singing the body electric in our house a lot, these days.

They won’t let me embed the video here, but if you’ve never seen the movie Fame — or it’s been a while — and you need a pick me up, please take a minute and watch this.

See? Don’t you feel awesome?

I sing the body electric
I celebrate the me yet to come
I toast to my own reunion
When I become one with the sun

And I’ll look back on Venus
I’ll look back on Mars
And I’ll burn with the fire of ten million stars
And in time
And in time
We will all be stars

Really, isn’t that what life is all about? (And I’m not religious, by the way, though I suppose the song has religious overtones if that’s your thing.) Life is about being a star, however you translate it. That’s what we want for ourselves, it’s what we want for our kids, it’s the reverie of a kitchen dance party to some really good music.

So how do we get that feeling and keep it?

We’ve been singing the body electric in our house a lot — literally — because Annabelle’s dance teacher used the song in a routine at last week’s family open house. We stuck it on one of our mixed CDs and the girls and I like to belt it out in the car, it lasts just exactly from our doorstep to the parking lot at school. It’s a good morning anthem.

And it’s more than that. It’s an impossible song to sing, and Annabelle’s class is dance — not music — so it was hard to resist the urge to put hands over ears last week, as we watched her little class sing it at the top of a dozen sets of lungs while trying to remember a lot of moves. It was hard to hold Sophie back, too. She’s not in that class. She may never be ready for the pace of that one. That breaks my heart. But it’s not at the fore.

School is.

Last night I found the video for the Fame version of the song on You Tube and the three of us were watching it. “Hey, that’s the school that the school you might go to next year is based on,” I told Annabelle. She shook her head hard, admonished me not to talk about that school. I understand. She’s terrified at the prospect of leaving her comfort zone, her nest since kindergarten, the loving school that — if she’s lucky, and wins a lottery in March — will no longer be home next fall.

The new school is scary to her, and thrilling to me. I’ve told you about it before — it’s an arts charter, grades 5 through 12. If she gets in, we’ll automatically mitigate (though not eliminate) the social dangers of junior high, the low academic performance of other schools, the lack of a great arts education almost everywhere else.

This is the school for Annabelle, and even though it’s a scary proposition, it’s a proposition. A place to shine.

My fingers are crossed that she’ll get in. I’m crossing all fingers and toes and everything else I can of when it comes to Sophie. Her path is not as clear, and yesterday I realized that even under the best circumstances, it doesn’t involve much of a chance to shine.

Yesterday we had one of those big school conference room meetings where all the therapists, the principal, the teachers and even the psychologist gather to discuss Sophie’s Progress and Future. This day we had some extra guests, because as I’ve mentioned before, it was time to bring another advocate into the picture. A Lawyer. And so Sophie’s Lawyer was joined by The District’s Lawyer, and also the District’s Special Education Director and even The District’s Tape Recorder, which sat in the middle of the big table as a reminder that Things Are Getting Serious.

Yesterday’s meeting was just to discuss what kinds of testing should be done for Sophie — her three-year timer’s about to go off, indicating assessments are needed. Her lawyer helped figure out the best tests to figure out where she’s at. Everyone was very amenable. If eventually it’s decided that Sophie needs a little extra help in class, that tone may change. We’re a ways away from that. So far, so good. One step at a time and all that.

Afterward, in the parking lot, the lawyer and I were chatting and she happened to mention that her own son (who is typical) attends the arts charter school — our local Fame — and loves it. I told her Annabelle wants to go there, she nodded vigorously.

Turning back to Sophie, the lawyer mused that she should do well at her current school, which goes through fifth grade. Then, we both agreed, she’s pretty much screwed. Junior high will be even harder on Sophie than a typical kid, the lawyer warned. I nodded.

We both shrugged, promised to stay in touch if either hears anything about this upcoming testing, and to see each other again in 60 days, at the school’s next meeting. Like I said, one step at a time.

But of course my thoughts drifted to junior high. Driving home from an impromptu dinner out last night, the girls asked for “Body Electric”. I obliged, turned it way up, and got lost in thought. I had an epiphany (dangerous, I know).

What if someone started an arts charter school for Sophie? Not just for Sophie, not just for kids with Down syndrome, but one that did include kids with special needs. (I’m not sure if it can be said officially or not, but the arts charter school in question is not likely the place for Sophie, and I’ll leave it at that.) But what if there was a place for her?

We know that kids with Down syndrome — and other special needs, too — thrive on the arts. Love to perform, get great benefit from music and other forms. The truth is that Sophie won’t really need to learn calculus or chemistry or a lot of the hard stuff they teach them as they get older. She needs to be with kids who are typical and otherwise, she needs to learn about the world in a happy, creative setting that celebrates difference. That celebrates her. She needs to shine.

By the time we pulled into the driveway I had a whole plan worked out to start my own arts charter school that includes special needs kids, including a list of potential teachers, advisors and kids who would attend. By morning I’d tamped that down a bit — but not entirely. A few years ago, one of my best friends and all-time favorite people in the world started a charter school in her neighborhood in Los Angeles. She did it without quitting her full time job as a lawyer, she did it for all the right reasons — and today that school and her kids are thriving.

It’s possible. And if nothing else, it gives me a little hope. Let me know if you’re interested, okay? Or if you know of a model that already exists.

Here’s Sophie’s audition tape. She made it herself when I wasn’t looking.

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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome by Amysilverman

6 Responses to “Sophie Sings the Body Electric”

  1. I would be the first to sign up. well, if you open a Massachusetts campus.

    I was just reading another blog that was really adamantly against IQ testing. Am curious about what tests you do (or don’t) recommend. Will you email me if you don’t want to elaborate here?

    Signed, too lazy to do my own research.

  2. Much love and thanks for the shout-out!! Is it possible that the arts charter could accomodate those with special needs too? Perhaps the students with special needs could have their own curriculum for the non-arts classes and be mainstreamed for others classes. If this is not feasible, go for it! When you encounter roadblocks, go over or around them!

  3. i have a friend who is a trained dancer and would make a fabulous teacher!

    Not to mention you could count on me for monthly “creative understanding of classic art”.

  4. I am in, long distance but I think it is a great idea! That video of Sophie brought a tear to my eye- thanks for sharing it! Kayli also has a great memory for songs and her speech is so clear when she is singing!
    What kinds of tests do they require- no tests here just evaluations based on school performance. Hmmm…..

  5. Sophie is just beautiful!What a precious sweet voice.
    I had to watch it twice, first time,tears kept falling and
    could only hear the sweetness of Sophie’s voice.
    Thank you so much Sophie and thank you Sophies
    mommy for sharing Sophie with us.

  6. I would help, for sure. What a great idea!

    One of the things that always amazed me about my old job (you know what it was) was that there were these adults getting services and programs and I never saw any kids, anywhere.

    Where is the fun and the art and the music for them? Everyone needs that!

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