The holiday karaoke party in Room 602 of Clarkstown North Thursday afternoon was going as expected, hitting on classics like “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” when Nancy Diamond asked for any requests.
A few asked for some traditional holiday songs while one girl gave a more unconventional holiday pick: Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer.”
They didn’t play it just then, but waited until the end of the holiday party for students in . And when they did, the girl stood in the front of room singing along, not needing to read the lyrics for most of the song, and made sure to raise her arms while belting out the chorus.
Her enthusiasm for the song recorded before she was born had a few others stopping conversations and packing up to leave the party so they could join in.
It was the liveliest performance during the hour-long party, which featured a rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas” performed by the more than 20 people at the party, from South SPIRIT students to North student volunteers to faculty supervisors. Each day was given to two people, who had to sing their own part each time the song counts down all the back to the first day of Christmas.
SPIRIT, which stands for “Spirit, Preparation, Independence, Readiness, Inclusion, Transition,” is a group of special needs students at South. As part of the Art Inclusion Project, run by Diamond, also the chair of the Art & Technology Department at North, SPIRIT students visit that school after classes and work with North students at different workshops.
“The concept of the program is the kids work as peers,” Diamond said. “We eliminate any gaps and I think it’s a great experience for all the students involved. It’s as awesome for the students from North as it is for the students from South.”
Diamond said there’s a core of about 10 students from South who come to the workshops, and she has even more students from North who want to participate in the workshops. While she was standing in the hallway right before the party started, three girls walked up and asked if they could help out at the party, which Diamond said they could.
“We usually have more North students than South ones,” Diamond said. “We’d like for it to be more one-on-one, but I just hate turning students away from the program.”
The program started last year, and so far they’ve had a number of workshops, including dance, poetry and photography. Diamond said she hopes they will hold theater and circus workshops in the future.
Earlier in the year, one workshop was a two-parter about ceramics. At one sessionn, students made tiny pots and during the second they put glaze on them. The finished ceramics were given back to the students at the party, and were wrapped in tissue paper and put in paper bags the students decorated to give away for the holidays.
Diamond said that a number of different groups get involved with the Art Inclusion Project. The holiday party was hosted by the Clarkstown North Autism Awareness Club, which was founded back in January by students Sarah Ehrenberg, 17, of New City, and Stephanie Lomedico, 15, of New City.
Both girls have siblings with autism, which partly led to founding the group.
“We saw a lot of bullying toward kids with disabilities,” said Ehrenberg, now a senior at North. “We wanted to teach people about these disabilities and show them its okay to have disabilities.”
Since the group started, their membership has tripled, and now stands at more than 40 students.
“It’s a wide range of students,” said Christina Hohner, a Teaching Assistant at North and the group’s faculty advisor. “We have athletes, students on the newspaper, just a really wide range of students.”