Fine arts teachers help students with disabilities


Ashley Spencer

Art teacher Jennifer Deal helps sophomore Nate Brazelton with his pendulum painting project.

Mrs. Riqui Boyles is a special education teacher at Broken Arrow High School who has a passion for inclusion of students with disabilities within school. Boyles recently taught at a middle school in Texas where the choir and art teachers wanted to visit her class to give her students a chance to participate in those classes.

Boyles was uncomfortable with this and decided to have her students get out of their classroom and visit the choir and art rooms themselves.

“Students with more severe disabilities often spend the majority of their day in the same classroom. That’s really tough on any kid whether you have normal capabilities or not,” Boyles said. “It worked out great. It gave the kids a lot of things they normally wouldn’t get. It was very beneficial to my students. Their communication skills increased, their behaviors became more appropriate and they made friends.”

Once Boyles moved to Broken Arrow, she was told that her students would not be attending any classes with general education students. She went to the district’s education office and asked if there was a way she could have the students do more and go out to art or music classes. An email was sent out to different teachers in the school to see if anyone would like to help.

Art teacher Jennifer Deal was the first to respond and gave up her planning period to help Boyles’ students.

“I had never worked with students with disabilities before,” Deal said. “Humanly, I had preconceived notions of them that immediately went away. The students were standoffish at first but eventually warmed up to me. I was surprised at the students’ knowledge.”

Boyles’ students now do art projects once a week with Deal and some general education students from another art class. This collaboration started at the beginning of this year and Boyles believes it’s a good start. Boyles claims the experience benefits her students as well as general education students.

“Inclusion teaches general education students compassion for kids with disabilities,” Boyles said. “It opens their eyes to different disabilities and later on in life, due to having interaction with students with disabilities in their classes, they will be more prepared to interact with people with disabilities in their adult lives. No matter what employment they have in the future they will be more likely to approach people with disabilities with a more positive attitude because they learned in school that people with disabilities are the same as them. Each student with a disability has such a big personality that nobody sees and nobody interacts with. Inclusion makes a big impact on everybody and not just students with disabilities but general education students as well.”

Orchestra teacher Kimberly Ricard offered the opportunity for Boyles’ students to come to her class as well. In the past, when Boyles and her students would pass through the music hall her students would stop to look in and listen. Boyles’ students now visit the orchestra room twice a month and her students love the music. They mostly do observations, but one of Boyles’ students is very interested in music.

“One day one of the boys went to the front with Mrs. Ricard and she welcomed him on over,” Boyles said. “She started conducting but was playing the piano at the same time and he started playing on the piano with her. She helped him and showed him how to play and then it turned into him going up onto the conductor’s seat. He picked up the pencil and tapped the stand and he started conducting and actually telling them to play. It was amazing because he went from a kid who typically has inappropriate behaviors to a kid interacting with 40 or 50 other kids and being a leader to them.”

Boyles hopes to advance the collaborations next year and have her students join a larger number of general education students. Boyles has enjoyed seeing her students learn, grow and interact with other students through these collaborations.