Real Life 'Glee' Featuring Special Needs Students [Video]

Andrew Dalton

The Kids of Widney High

A group of high school teachers in Illinois has created a musical phenomenon more feel-good than Glee. The High Five Choir at New Trier Township High School brings together special needs students with everything from Down syndrome to Noonan syndrome. You don't even have to be able to speak -- they find something for you to do. 

It began as just a lunchtime club and turned into a big phenomenon. It's a real class for credit now with almost 60 kids in it. They're like a bigger version of my local Kids of Widney High -- more on them below.

It's a far cry from Glee -- though if the students in the High Five Choir used as much Auto-Tune as the Glee kids they could probably sound just the same. And they probably bring more happy tears from their audience. Every performance in its five years of existence has brought a standing ovation.

Founding teacher Susan Vaughan tells the Chicago Tribune the group' philosophy:


You don't have to be verbal; there's a place for you here. You don't have to have perfect pitch; there's a place for you here.

And every kid in the group has a facilitator from the main choir, which both gives those kids  something valuable to do and also helps keep down the segregation of different kinds of students -- one of the dangers of this kind of project.  

The kids sing some obvious tunes like Over the Rainbow, but also songs that genuinely reflects their lives. Here's the lyrics to the group's signature song about a kid who got teased:

Don't laugh at me

Don't call me names

Don't get your pleasure from my pain

Deep inside we're all the same

I love that it's as much defiant and angry as feel-good. If I didn't know any better I'd think those were 80s punk lyrics.

And speaking of punk, Los Angeles has a long-running rocking equivalent to the Chicago teens, The Kids of Widney High. They've played forever and appeared in the Johnny Knoxville movie The Ringer. While hardly punk sounding, they bring the same do-it-yourself sensibility, writing and singing their own songs about their own world. And their audience is full of a lot more than parents -- they are a genuine part of the local independent music community. Here's their biggest hit Pretty Girls.


Of course all of this celebrating and public display can bring feelings and accusations that the kids are being exploited or at the very least patronized. But if the alternative is sitting down and keeping quiet like such kids were asked to do for so many years, that's well worth the risk.

Image via RickHall/Flickr

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