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Glen Peters students show off talents in ‘Great Gatsby’

By: Thomas Franz | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published January 27, 2016


MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Two years ago, Rebecca Gibson wasn’t sure how putting on a play would come together for her students at Glen Peters School.

With several students in wheelchairs, and others who are blind or deaf, Gibson was faced with many logistical challenges to pulling the show off.

She decided to create and edit the production of “The Odyssey” into a video format, and after having so much success in doing so, she and her students were ready to create their own version of “The Great Gatbsy” this fall.

On Jan. 22, Gibson and her students showed off their final product to other students, parents and school administrators.

“It is quite the undertaking, but it’s so worth it,” Gibson said.

The production involved 55 students between the ages of 15 and 26 who have severe, multiple impairments, which means they often have a cognitive disorder on top of a physical disability.

In order to bring the show to life, Gibson said many students used augmented devices, which are simple switches that students hit to play pre-recorded lines.  Some students used iPads, while others were able to voice their memorized lines.

“We use a lot of prompting with our students, getting them to hit our devices or getting them to say something,” Gibson said. “In the video, we’re able to wait a few minutes for them to do something, whereas (in) a play you’d want them to do it right away. In the video, you can edit out that three-minute wait time to complete whatever it was we were asking them to do.”

When it comes to casting, Gibson said she tries to match the students with characters that closely match their real-life personalities. She pointed out that the student who played the character of George was a perfect match.

“He really likes to pretend to be mad and happy. That’s what he does all day long. We play pretend with him, and so he took the character of George, who gets to be mad a lot, and he had so much fun using his facial expressions,” Gibson said.

Each student had at least one line in the play, which was a point of emphasis for Gibson. About 20 students gave a line during a party scene in which partygoers were trying to figure out how Gatsby acquired his fortune.

“I like to call it their five seconds of fame, and everyone gets it. It’s just kind of a creative way to do that,” Gibson said. “I try to give them each a good camera shot so that their parents can see them.”

Gibson added that the biggest reward for those involved in the production came when students saw or heard themselves on the big screen.

“I think that’s when it comes full circle for them. I don’t think all of them quite understand exactly what’s going on, and then when they see it and they see themselves and hear themselves — one of our main characters is visually impaired, when she hears herself on the big screen, her reaction to that is priceless,” Gibson said. “It’s all worth it.”

Glen Peters Principal Jennifer Shelton said the 22-minute production was especially significant because it allowed their students to be involved with activities similar to their general education peers.

In addition to the play production, the school also offers adaptive physical education and real-life learning skills, such as creating grocery lists or fliers, as other ways in which the school’s students learn creatively.

“The kids like to be involved as much as they can, so it’s great to see because the kids are in there and interacting,” Shelton said. “They’re not just being passive; they’re active participants in what’s going on in the classroom.”