Among thousands of students at New Trier, the members of the High Five Choir have found their voice — and learned a few lessons about inclusivity, patience and friendship while they’re at it.
The choir, which meets five days per week, is made up of differently-abled students from all walks of life. Some students are non-verbal, while others sing loud and proud. The choir includes student facilitators, who are teamed up with a “buddy” in the choir.
“Facilitators work with buddies who are differently-abled from them,” explained Mikaila Rosin, a senior instructional leadership core (SILC) member and former facilitator. “We honestly work with each other and form an amazing relationship, and we learn how to help them and how they can help you. [In High Five] I’ve learned that communication exists in all kinds of forms — in the outside world, it’s mostly words. Here, it’s through hands, dancing, etc.”
"Serving as Agents of Change"
The 70-member group was formed nine years ago, and became an official New Trier class seven years ago. Throughout the years, the choir has been supported by the school and community, explained Director Susan Vaughan.
“We’ve been well supported by the administration and the music and the special ed. departments, embraced by the community and uplifted by our students,” Vaughan said. “It’s really a group of students of all abilities, coming together through music, building longstanding friendships, raising disability awareness and serving as agents of change for the school, the community and the world.”
The members of High Five all joined for different reasons. Some saw the choir perform and decided to join, some have been involved in similar organizations in the past — and some have a family connection.
“I love it,” said Kyle Boyd, a facilitator in the choir. “It’s not just a class — it’s an extension into my life. My little brother is in this, and the other day we were listening to ‘Landslide’ [which the group sings] and we just both started to belt it out.”
But whether students have relatives in the group or not, the members of the chorus have formed a supportive, family-like atmosphere that many say is the highlight of their day.
“It’s a really good break from the day,” said Charlotte Stender, who is also a SILC member and former facilitator. “If you’re having a bad day … you walk in the room and its like it never happened. Everyone here loves to be here.”
“There’s something else special about us,” Stender added. “We really are friends and we hang out."
"It Truly Takes a Village"
With such a large and diverse organization, Vaughan says it takes a large crew to keep everything running smoothly, including special educators and assistants
“It truly takes a village for this amazing choir to be as successful and thriving,” she said.
Besides Vaughan directing, in a typical rehearsal there’s also Timothy Mah accompanying, Jane Che working as a special educator in the room, speech pathologist Vicki Murphy and instructional assistants Ernesto Melchor-Gonzalez, April Kus, Kevin McCrary, Agnieszka Dziacko, Lindsey Bacher and William Kline.
The choir stays busy, with five performances scheduled for this year — including the Illinois Music Educator Conference in Peoria this January.
The hard work is worth it for the choir members though — and for Vaughan as well.
“This is really important work,” Vaughan said. “To give a voice to someone or allow some to use their voice — it’s my passion, to give a voice to everyone, through dignity and compassion.”High Five’s Upcoming Performances:
- Thurs., Nov. 7 — Fall Choral Concert, Cornog Auditorium, 7:30 p.m.
- Fri., Dec. 20 — High Five Choir Winter Sing, Gaffney Auditorium, 11 a.m.
- Fri., Jan. 24 — Illinois Music Educator Conference, Peoria, IL
- Wed., March 26 — Spring Choral Concert, Gaffney Auditorium, 7:30 p.m.
- Thurs. May 8 — A Year in the Life of High Five Choir, Gaffney Auditorium, 11 a.m.