By Michele Dotson
Staff Writer

festapalloozaOn December 20, Rocky River High School will sponsor its 3rd Annual Festapallooza.
What started three years ago as a collaborative project between the special education class and the drama teacher has turned into a school-wide, two community agency, and 10 visiting high schools event, featuring a play, a lunch, and a Special Olympics basketball exhibition.
“The first year Rocky River opened, I was teaching an adapted version of Hamlet,” says special education teacher Ann Lake. “I approached the drama teacher, Mr. Webster as a possible collaborative effort. My students were reading the story and acting it out in class. The first year, we took five scenes and invited the parents, the administration, and a few CMS support staff.”
That first year was a huge successes, so Lake and Webster decided to expand the project.
According to Lake, the next year, one of Webster’s theater students helped write a script for A Christmas Carol. That year they invited East Mecklenburg High School’s Specialized Academic Curriculum (SAC) and Autistic (AU) classes to come and watch.
After the play they ate lunch and scrimmaged Special Olympics basketball.
“Last year – it exploded!” says Lake. “The play was three short stories from three different cultures. We filled up and had over 300 people.”
The program has grown again this year with the addition of a collaboration with Allegro Foundation to incorporate dance, and the ready assistance of almost of every department in the school.
Schools visiting this year include Hough, Harding, Mallard Creek, East Meck, Myers Park, Renaissance @Olympic, Vance, Butler, and Metro.
Additionally, the EC teacher from Hough High School is bringing his theater teacher to learn about the collaboration.
Teachers and students from the regular education program have embraced the opportunity to help Festapallooza this year, and in so doing, have developed a closer relationship with the students they would not usually interact with on a daily basis.
This year the students will perform the play Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, based on the popular children’s book.
Their costumes have been designed by students in the Apparel Development Class.
The photography class is documenting the entire process, from rehearsal to production.
JROTC will help make sure visitors park in the right places on December 20.
The Teacher Cadets have created educational guides for all schools coming to the performance so their students will be prepared.
The Craft and Design class is making paper cranes for the set.
The Allegro Foundation is working with the drama students and the special needs students on choreography.
The theater students are partnering with the special needs students to learn stage directions, scripts, and offer encouragement. They actually appear on stage dressed in black to help the actors remember where to be, help them with their lines, and model for them how to act and project.
The Dream Team will time and officiate the basketball game.
A total school effort with total school rewards.
“The regular education students and the special education students have the opportunity to work together, get to know each other, and form friendships,” says Lake. “The regular education students learn that the special education students are capable with supports. The students then speak to each other during lunches and in the hallways, promoting an environment of understanding and acceptance.”
The project has also allowed special education students the opportunity to experience the elective of theater. Lake says that the experience has given a tremendous boost to her students’ confidence.
Senior Devryn Galloway, whose sister is a special needs student at Rocky River, is the president of the Project Unify Club.
“The softball tournament is hands-down the event that got me interested in working with these kids,” says Galloway, who was instrumental in starting a Project Unify Club at Rocky River.
Special Olympics Project Unify is a program whose main goal is to foster respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities.
Galloway, who plans to study to be a special education teacher in college, says the organization at Rocky River is very active with about 35 members.
“It’s a total team effort,” says Galloway. “All our club members work hard with our students and really enjoy it.”
Although Galloway is undecided right now about where he will attend college, he does know that if the school doesn’t have a Project Unify, he will start one.
To view a video presentation about Festapallooza, visit
For more information about attending the performance of Sadaku and the Thousand Paper Cranes, or the basketball game, contact Ann Lake at

festapallooza 1- A group shot from last year’s Festapallooza, a festival showcasing the talents of special needs students that has blossomed into a school-wide, multi-disciplinary focus on acceptance and respect for students with special academic needs.