Students with disabilities from 85 schools participate in an artistic festival that promotes inclusion

Hundreds of kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school students gathered this Friday at The Music Center (TMC) in downtown Los Angeles to participate in a festival that promotes the inclusion of all students regardless of their physical or mental abilities.

María Cárdenas accompanied her daughter, Jacqueline Cárdenas, who was going to participate in a music presentation with her classmates at John Marshall High School.

The 18-year-old girl has Down syndrome and her mother said that although she doesn't speak, she knows sign language.

“She really likes to sing, dance and I am very happy to have her here,” said Maria, asserting that her daughter has participated in the festival for the past seven years.

"I like it here because they are treated like normal people … There is a lot of discrimination out there and they are put aside," he said.

María Cárdenas with her daughter Jacqueline Cárdenas shortly before her musical presentation at TMC. (Jacqueline García)

The Very Special Arts Festival, in its 41st edition, is dedicated to celebrating students of all abilities. On this occasion he had the opportunity to present the artistic work of 85 schools bringing together more than 3,500 students from kindergarten through high school.

Keith Wyffels, associate vice president of education at TMC Arts, said the students were able to present their own artistic works of music, dance, painting and even fashion.

“This year we have the theme of‘ Homecoming ’since we are back at The Music Center now that it was remodeled,” he added.

The vice president said the participating centers are a mix of Los Angeles County schools that have already participated in the past or received the invitation from TMC.

"It's a great job for students to meet and make their presentations," said Wyffels.

Inspired by his son

Mario Castro, music teacher at Lynwood Middle School, said his school sent 40 students to make a musical presentation. In the group there were students of all abilities.

Music teacher Mario Castro (left) took his group of students from Lynwood High School to the art festival at TMC. (Jacqueline García)

Castro says it was his son, today 14, who taught him to be more empathetic with people with disabilities.

“At 5 years old my son was diagnosed with autism and for almost 10 years he has suffered from epilepsy,” said the teacher. "I understand the reality of being a father with a child who has special needs."

Castro confessed that he wakes up every day thinking about his son's well-being and fears something will happen to him.

"But today I got up with so much pride and hope because I see my child reflected in everyone (my students) and I was very proud to see them make their presentation," he said.

The teacher said that adults should not underestimate the value of art in children who have a disability.

He was also encouraged to tell a very pleasant experience he had with a student, who was doing very badly in his classes.

“When he arrived at my class, I gave him the drumsticks and he said‘ these are mine ’… I already participated well all week in his (regular) classes so that on Friday I could attend the music class,” Castro said.

"That gives me a lot of pride."

Students of all abilities participated in the Very Special Arts Festival on Friday. (TMC)

As part of the annual tradition, Very Special Arts Festival students also had the opportunity to interact and have fun with visual arts and theater students from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA).

The festival is a collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles County Office of Education with the support of Wells Fargo, the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and LSMK Investments.


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