Arts and Community Service Flourish at the Glenholme School

Now in its 51st year, the Devereux Glenholme School in Washington, Connecticut Glenholme accepts youngsters from ages 10 to 21 with high functioning autism, depression, anxiety, Tourette’s, OCD, ADD/ADHD and other learning differences. The Glenholme School provides a panoply of data-driven and evidence based clinical, behavioral and educational interventions individualized to meet each student’s needs.

Two exceptional programs round out the treatment goals in a holistic manner: The Arts Program and the Community Service Program.

First, the Glenholme’s Arts Program involves most of the students. A four-person team comprised of a music teacher, the Arts Director, a movement teacher and an acting teacher work together.

In keeping with the Glenholme school’s  strengths-based, all inclusive ethos, everyone who shows up at auditions will get a part. There are additional slots in lighting, sound, costumes and scenery. Sometimes there are so many of the students in the cast and crew, there are not many students left in the audience.

At rehearsals, the children are kind and supportive of each other. Matthew deLong, Arts Director since 2000, ventured, ”There is a remarkable depth of empathy in the youngsters that we see elsewhere in the school. The kids step up for each other. If a child makes a mistake in rehearsal, the others will clap for them and encourage them to try again.” Staff may need to provide support to get them to show up, when they are not in the mood. Students are sometimes stressed and fearful. Staff and other students encourage them to go on and work through their fear. The end result is that they get through it, have fun and learn a generalizable lesson, that success can come despite fear. When the finished product goes on, staff and parents alike are often amazed at the transformation of the students. In day to day life they may be anxious and shy. On stage they shine and belt out their lines and numbers and one would never suspect this child was ever anxious!

Through the arts program, students pick up many things. Students want a good product and learn just how much practice it takes to achieve one. The hours of practice, and work on a common goal makes for friendships among the performers.

The children learn to accept feedback from each other. Some children have poor relationships with cottage mates.  They become curious about their characters. In learning how to embody their characters, they self-reflect on how they are coming across. This adds an ability to introspect to the youngster’s skills. It is non-threatening when done in the service of the play. This budding skill circles back and assists youngsters in their peer relations. Mr. DeLong has seen students gain poise, self esteem and confidence. The child’s success sees them become more interactive and willing to try new things.

The arts aren’t the only thing that boost Glenholme students in their development. For 15 years, on Wednesdays, a group of children run Bingo games at the Candlewood Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center. Children are paired with residents who need help hearing numbers or seeing their cards. Other students call out the numbers and wheel the prize cart around.

Chrissy Steward, the Community Service Coordinator likes to take the more challenging students. She has found that when these youngsters become “caregivers,” their exterior toughness softens. This infuses the students with a sense of competence and mastery. Many  of the youngsters have grandparents that are far away, or don’t have grandparents. The residents at Candlewood are like surrogate grandparents; showering kindness, approval and appreciation.

The nursing home residents support the Glenholme students as well. When students perform theatrical productions, the Candlewood residents are in the audience. For the last event, the Lion King, the seniors brought flowers to give to the actors.

At the end of this month, Candlewood residents are returning to the Glenholme campus, where the students in the food program will cook and serve lunch.

The convergence of treatment goals in these programs thread through the all encompassing milieu at Glenholme.

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