EDMOND — In the auditorium at Washington Irving Elementary hangs a banner proclaiming the school creed, which begins: “I was born to be a winner.”
A seasonal green and red banner across the back of the stage adds a quote by composer Richard Wagner: “Joy is not in things, it is in us.”
On the Friday before winter break, students gathered to watch the sixth-annual holiday presentation by the school's special-needs students. Parents also came to see their children take center stage.
This year, the performance featured a song well-known to Oklahomans — the B.C. Clark jewelry store Christmas jingle.
Using button-operated voice recorders, students described the history of the song. For the finale, they shook jingle bells in time with the song, while members of the audience sang along.
Many children in the special-needs program are profoundly disabled, meaning things that many people take for granted, such as the ability to move and communicate freely, can present difficulties.
Preparing the students to get up on stage can require months of practice. For the special needs teachers at Washington Irving, it is worth every minute.
“These kids are champions,” said Nicole Fox, who teaches the third- through fifth-grade classes. “Even though they may not be able to speak and their bodies may not move well, their souls are just angelic.”
While the holiday production is warmly received by the teachers and student body, it is most cherished by the families.
Sheila and Todd Rudat's son, Trey, attends a prekindergarten class. He uses a wheelchair and has trouble speaking, but he communicated his enthusiasm during the performance with a shy grin. His parents say Trey's love of music is rivaled only by his love of school.
“He's upset when he has to leave the school,” Sheila Rudat said. “He loves everyone here. All his peers are fabulous with him, and the teachers are just incredible.”
Sarah and Chris Newby came to see their daughter, Kate, in the holiday production. Kate's grandparents Carol and Whit Newby traveled from Florida, and her great-aunt Susan Kral came from Virginia. For the Newby family, the holidays are a special time of year.
“Kate loves Christmas,” Sarah Newby said. “She loves the Christmas ornaments of the tree, and crinkly ribbons and bows. And she just loves to come to school every day ... For her to be in the holiday production was amazing.”
When the last note of the song had been sung and the last jingle bell rang, the students filed offstage to a round of applause. Backstage, there were hugs and smiles as their families greeted the performers. They know, as Wagner did, where joy comes from.