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How the arts unified one school's special ed and typical kids

Up until a few years ago, a chain link fence separated Grand View Boulevard Elementary school in Mar Vista from the McBride Special Education Center. McBride was absorbed into Grand View and since then, the arts have played a key role in bringing the students together.

On Friday, the school celebrated the community it has formed through the arts with an Inclusive Arts Day. On the playground, the school’s 700 kids cycled through a mix of arts activities, including a drum circle.

"We get to paint and stuff and have lots of fun," said second grader Aaliyah Severe, who was busy running from station to station. 

During the school day, she takes music, visual art and other classes along with students who have moderate to severe disabilities. There's a buddy system in place and typical students work with kids with special needs and bond over the work. 

"It’s just unique because it’s really visual and hands on, which is an area of strength for a lot of our students that have moderate to severe disabilities that can’t express themselves as well," said special education teacher Kelly Gaydowski.

The nonprofit P.S. Arts provides music and visual arts classes to all of Grand View's students year round. The group provides arts instruction in dozens of schools throughout Southern California.

"Many of our schools do have inclusion classes where students with special needs have the opportunity to participate in the arts with their typically developing peers," said P.S. Arts Program Manager Jaime Reichner. "In some of our programs, that may be the only time of the day that the students are all together."

Visual art teacher Tamie Smith started teaching at Grand View more than 15 years ago - long before the school combined with McBride.

"Before that we used to just see the special needs students between the fence," Smith said.

She said there was a period of adjustment, but she's seen students grow and learn interpersonal skills in her class from interacting with students who are different. 

"The level of compassion and tolerance and empathy, it's gonna be a life-long lesson," said Smith. "It's not just doing art together; it's the bigger picture."

The celebration Friday was sponsored by P.S. Arts and Delta Airlines and featured a celebrity appearance by Lakers forward Julius Randle, who did a little coloring and drumming with the kids. 

Out near the spot where the old fence used to be stands an important symbol - a ceramic tile mural that students with and without special needs made together.

Kids with and without special needs worked together to design the ceramic tiles that make up this mural.
Courtesy P.S. Arts
Kids with and without special needs worked together to design the ceramic tiles that make up this mural.