Hillcrest High Husky Club showcases talent
Apr 09, 2018 11:58AM ● Published by Julie Slama
Eight students danced to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as part of the Husky Club talent show, the opportunity for special education students, peer tutors, and student body officers to showcase their talent in front of their peers and faculty. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
“Welcome to the greatest show.”
Those words from Hillcrest High School student body vice president Lizzie Jensen may be the best description of what transpired on stage, according to special education aide Whitney Lott.
“Some of these students have never gotten up to do something like this before,” she said. “This has given them so much support and confidence and a feeling of pride in doing it.”
Lott is referring to the Husky Club talent show, the opportunity for special education students, peer tutors, and student body officers to showcase their talent in front of their peers and faculty.
The Feb. 13 show began with Addie Morley and Makelle Espinoza as flag bearers and Ashlin Cootney singing the national anthem. Ashlin later sang, “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana.”
“I’ve been singing since I was a little girl, but I sang in the sixth-grade choir,” Ashlin said. “At first, I was petrified. I couldn’t get a note out, but I grew out of that fear.”
Ashlin has sang at the Hillcrest unified soccer game versus the Real Salt Lake unified soccer team as well as auditioned for Hillcrest High School Idol.
Eight students — Estephani Govea-Comargo, Alexis Tafoya, Dominic Williams, Kilepoa Walieson Tuitama, Aukia Finau, Jonathon Pascual, Sophia Lovell and Jake Tilby — danced to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” followed by Ike Campell singing “Born to Lie.”
Special education teacher JoAnn Plant said they were well received.
“The audience was clapping and cheering,” she said. “Ike loves to sing and when our class went to ‘The Greatest Showman,’ he learned every song.”
Ike said he was ready to perform in the talent show.
“It was exciting to be on stage,” he said. “I liked my song.”
Students Luis Rodriguez and Yasmin Quispe-Robles paired up to dance to “Promise” before Marissa Fuller danced to “So What?” with a guest cameo appearance by student body president Boston Iacobazzi.
Luis, who moved to Utah from Peru, said he was nervous before he took the stage.
“I had practiced, but I was happy how it went,” he said, adding that he likes to dance to Latino music. “I want to do it again next year.”
Plant said many of her students prevailed to perform. Some are autistic, bipolar, suffer from anxiety or depression or have behavioral issues, seizure disorders, communication issues or other health conditions, but still are “brilliant and have so much to offer.”
Many students had to overcome their timidity to perform.
“Marissa was twirling and dancing and it’s just been amazing how far she has come to overcome her shyness,” Plant said.
The duo of Christina Archuletta and Noor Al-Baldawi sang “Closer” before Jordan Mathena performed his original song, “Techno Pizza.”
The two girls not only practiced their song, but also determined what they’d wear for the performance, Noor said.
“We practiced for the talent show and knew all the words, but the best part of it was the applause,” Noor said.
Christina said it was hard. “I like singing, but it was hard (to be on stage),” she said.
Plant said that Jordan used Garage Band he learned in his CTEC class to create the song.
“He wrote it and just went with it,” she said, adding that Jordan is learning computer programs for his career goal of writing video games.
Students Tyler Houchins, Dominic Williams and Jaden Hartman showcased their artwork. Tyler’s was a piece titled, “Lego,” Dominic’s was “Donuts Puzzle,” and Jaden’s was called “Tile.”
Alexis Tafoya and Lizzie Jensen then sang, “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana” before Jaxon Brady danced to “Cowboy Bebop.”
“Alexis knew all the words and sang so beautifully,” Lizzie said.
Special education paraeducator Debra Buchanan said that Jaxon always is showcasing his talent.
“We can be at a TRAX station on a field trip and he will pull out his moves,” she said. “He’s a really good dancer and used a lot expression.”
Jaxson said he just moves to the music.
“Nobody taught me,” he said. “I just want to do it.”
Laney Cluff, who has played violin for five years, played “Hallelujah.”
Her mother, Julie, said that she played in elementary school and recently just picked it back up again.
“She loves music,” Julie Cluff said. “She has been in choir for four years now and learns songs, then comes home and picks them out on her violin. It’s kind of amazing.”
The showcase concluded with Isaac Zaelit performing his original dance to the “Next Evolution of Dance.”
What began as an eight-minute dance was whittled down to a three-minute presentation that highlighted well-known moves through dance and “made him the talk of the school,” Plant said.
“He worked on this in front of a mirror for six months and it just took us by surprise when he performed,” she said. “We’re so proud of our students and what they’ve done to overcome so much to perform and to help put on this show.”
Several other students — Aubre Cooper, Jorge Garcia-Guillen, Zach Rolfson and Joshua Herrera — helped as stage crew members along with helpers Giselle Gremmert, Joshua Griffel, Ariel Corpuz, Tara Sharp, Lindy Schwendiman and Hillcrest student body officers.
The Husky Club, which started 25 years ago, allows students and their peer tutors to participate in several activities from going on outings such as movies and museums to playing in unified soccer games to attending junior prom.
Several students, including student body officers, have taken active roles as mentors and involve students in activities, Plant said.
“Boston has been a mentor in our program and when he ran for student body president, he told the class that they’re a part of our school and he hasn’t forgotten that,” she said. “Our kids have become more a part of the school and feel like they have a friend. He has gotten more support for our unified soccer program and has made it cool to be part of the team.”
Plant’s granddaughter, Regan, is a peer tutor and is considering following in her grandmother’s and mother’s steps as a career.
“I love making connections with them as I walk with them or sit with them at lunch,” she said. “They’ve become my friends.”
Lizzie, who also is a mentor, values her friendships with Husky Club members.
“I loved that a lot of kids who got up on the stage are super shy and were doing something out of their comfort zone,” she said. “I loved that they had a wide variety of talents and I loved that people came to support the kids at our school with disabilities because I know how happy it made them. It really ended up being so sweet and heartwarming.”