All-abilities show choir helps spread message of inclusion

Eye on KELOLAND

We have some great news. The group that pairs up students from all different backgrounds has won a national award for inclusion.

This March we introduced you to Roosevelt High School’s groundbreaking all-abilities and all-inclusive show choir called Unity Inc.

It’s one of the first of its kind in the country, a competitive, all-abilities show choir. And now, Unity Inc. is an award-winning outfit.

“Unbelievable. Yes we were contacted just a few weeks ago by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Organization based out of Minneapolis and L.A. I believe that we had received an annual award, a unity award,” Roosevelt Head Choral Director Robyn Starks Holcomb said.

Holcomb says the “United for Inclusion” Award is handed out for outstanding acts to help others feel like they belong and know that they aren’t alone.

When we first covered Unity back in March, Sophomore Jenna Beintema told us the group, made up of 60 traditional and non-traditional students, made her time at Roosevelt better.

“It makes us feel like we belong here and that we’re not different, we’re just people,” Sophomore Jenna Beintema said

“We prepared a competitive show. We sang three songs. We danced. We had formation changes. We had a team building. We did everything that a typical show choir would do because they are one of our four show choirs here at Roosevelt,” Assistant Choir Director Van Der Sloot said.

Van Der Sloot says the same amount of thought and practice goes into Unity routines. COVID-19 changed how the group finished the year but the students stuck together.

“Through song, through dance, through friendship, through team building, they became family. Even through what’s happening now in our current situation with COVID, these bonds and these friendships have continued to foster,” Van Der Sloot said.

Unity was inspired by the student-led Best Buddies program at the school. Many of the buddies are staying in touch during the pandemic.

“Parents have organized so that their buddy can come and see the graduate or see the birthday person. You can just see the faces as they light up and everybody is excited to see each other. Those bonds are genuine,” Van Der Sloot said.

“I just could not be more proud of these students and this program and ultimately our school, what Roosevelt High School has decided to be,” Starks Holcomb said.

These women are already planning for next year and how that will look during the pandemic. They’re also coaching other schools on how to create their own all-abilities show choirs.

“The after effect of it all is I spent the remainder of the year answering emails from three to four states around us saying we heard about this. We saw this. Parents brought this to us. We’re so moved by this. Our students brought this up to us. What can you tell us? How did you do this? Where did it start?” Starks Holcomb said.

The two hope more competition pops up at other schools in the region for Unity to go up against. Inclusion is an idea they hope spreads across the country. It’s hitting all the right notes here at Roosevelt.

“You want to create something that lasts way beyond you. Something that is bigger than yourself, bigger than us and bigger than we. Something that has it’s own power. I think that is the ultimate goal because that is going to last way beyond high school,” Van Der Sloot said.

Despite COVID-19, Starks Holcomb promises there will be show choir seasons this next school year. It just depends on if it will be in person or if will take place remotely.

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