Eye on KELOLAND: Roosevelt students practice Unity


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Roosevelt High School is hitting brand new notes with what it’s calling a “ground-breaking all-abilities and inclusive show choir.”

The first of its kind team at the school is bringing together students of all different backgrounds to create something special for those participating and their fans.

“There is nothing that beats the community spirit in this place,” Starks Holcomb said.

Practicing in the gymnastics room at Roosevelt, members of Unity Inc. Show Choir are working hard to get their moves right and their voices in sync.

Holsen: What do you like more, singing or dancing?
Shyam: Singing and dancing both.

Senior Avantika Shyam also loves being in front of an audience. It’s fitting that her favorite song to perform with her new friends is titled ‘Best Day Of My Life.’

Holsen: Do you like doing that?
Shyam: Yep.

Holsen: Why?
Shyam: Because I’m doing this.

Holsen: It’s a lot of fun right?
Shyam: Yeah.

It’s not just about fun. This group is one of the first all-abilities show choirs to register for competitions. Led by Robyn Starks Holcomb and her staff, it’s been a big hit here at Roosevelt.

“This is a no-brainer. Duh. Show choir. Unified show choir. Done,” Starks Holcomb said.

Starks Holcomb and company piloted a small group last year and when applications opened up for round two.

“They just came flooding in. Very proud of what this school has decided to be and who they’ve decided to see,” Starks Holcomb said.

Roughly 60 students, traditional and non-traditional, meet up for regular practices to get on the same page so they can take the stage, together.

“This community just means so much to me. The idea of inclusion and the fact that at home I have a brother that actually has autism. So like, much more than me learning from him, it’s also I can take those abilities and bring it to these amazing kids,” Ebeling said.

Junior Jacob Ebeling is a Rough Riders baseball player. He also enjoys singing and working behind the scenes for show choir. But this group in particular, really warms his heart.

“I swear this is my favorite period every Friday. This is why I love Friday so much. Come to school knowing that I have Unity this period,” Ebeling said.

“What this means to me, to Randi, to the students involved is just including everybody. We all come in different packages and sizes and shapes and colors and the lens in which we see and perceive the world and how we give information back. Inside it’s all the same human spirit with all the same rights and desires. Everyone just wants to be included and heard and seen and loved,” Starks Holcomb said.

There’s a lot of that happening here. Just watch as everyone greets each other before they start performing.

“I’ve made a lot of good friends. I’ve made four of my best friends,” Beintema said.

Unity Inc. is just one new activity Sophomore Jenna Beintema (ban) is taking part in. Roosevelt also has a Best Buddies chapter and Unified Sports. The goal is to end the isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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

This show choir is getting ready for its next performance at Unified Sports Night at Roosevelt on March 13. Beintema admits she’s ready but anxious.

Beintema: Yes I am. I’m also nervous. It’s fine.

Holsen: What are you nervous about?

Beintema: I don’t do good on stage a little bit if I see a lot of people. I’m able to get through it. I don’t know how.

Thinking about it a moment longer, she realizes her fellow students make it a lot easier.

“They boost up my confidence and they help me which is what I love about them,” Beintema said.

Having compassion for your fellow classmate, your fellow girl or boy.

“If you’re a choir director out there, honestly, go at it. You’re going to have an absolute blast. Every member in the group is going to love it,” Ebeling said.

Fans will too if the demand for their performances is any clue. Starks Holcomb hopes Unity will expand moving forward and keep providing a sense of community here in western Sioux Falls.

“‘Will you please come perform? Will you please come perform?’ For this year, we’re kind of protecting everyone’s schedules and trying to just get a sense of what we’ve created but it’s just going to keep growing. We’re excited about next year already,” Starks Holcomb said.

If you’d like to see Unity perform, they will be in action on Unified Sports Night at Roosevelt on March 13.

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