Three special education students were in the spotlight last week at Farmington Junior High when they sang a featured trio in “Amazing Grace” during the school’s choir concert.

“A lot of people were posting about it on social media saying what a great job they did and how brave they were and what a special teacher that was to allow that opportunity,” said Kari Mathis, the functional skills special education teacher.

The trio came about when Lilly VanWagoner, who has cerebral palsy, said she wanted to try out for a solo part during the mixed chorus performance.

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Lilly, 12, enjoys singing and already had participated in the school’s musical, “The Sound of Music,” last fall.

After she tried out for the solo, other students in the choir approached teacher Christine Harris to ask if three of the special education students in the class could do the performance together, according to Stacy Johnson, the mother of Isabel, one of the other girls in the trio. 

“The kids just seem to accept these kids, no strings attached,” Johnson said. “They just open their arms to them.”

Johnson said making the Farmington Junior High cheerleading squad changed Isabel’s life.  

Before then, socializing was a major struggle for her daughter even though she has participated on a special-needs cheer squad for four years, Johnson said.

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Isabel Johnson

Isabel Johnson is a member of the cheerleading squad at Farmington Junior High. The special-needs student has garnered many friends since making the cheerleading squad, said her mother, Stacy Johnson.

“Farmington has just been phenomenal to her by giving her opportunities that normally wouldn’t come to a child with special needs,” Johnson said. “She’s never really had friends so it’s been wonderful to see all the support.”

Since Isabel became a cheerleader, her phone lights up with texts, and many students now follow Isabel on Instagram, Johnson said.

Shalee Booker, the mother of Kaiya Booker, 14, who has Down syndrome and was a member of the trio, posted to Facebook: “I couldn’t be more proud of my Kia and I couldn’t be more moved by the choir teacher and the students in that class.

“It’s fair to say I cried my eyes out and my heart grew three sizes.”

Kaiya told the Standard-Examiner that she liked singing “Amazing Grace.”

It makes me feel happy,” she said.

Mathis was inspired by the performance but not surprised to see the girls take center stage she said.

“The kids at Farmington Junior High are very supportive of the inclusion of special-needs kids,” Mathis said.

Mathis, who has been teaching at the school five years, said a peer-tutoring elective class she offers always seems to be the first to fill up at registration time.

She supervises 90 of the students throughout the day, an average of 13 per class period for seven periods, as they mentor their peers with special needs.

“I've been at a couple of schools,” Mathis said. “The kids here are far and above any other place I’ve been as far as inclusion and acceptance.”

The three girls who sang in the trio were some of the 14 students Mathis has through the day in her functional skills class.

You may reach reporter JaNae Francis at jfrancis@standard.net or 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or on Facebook at Facebook.com/SEJaNaeFrancis.

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