Anyone who goes to Travis Middle School knows Joshua Woelper. He can be seen greeting his friends in the hallway with a socially distanced elbow pat, grinning ear to ear in his Atlanta Falcons face mask.
But Joshua hasn’t always been this outgoing. Thanks to Travis’ theatre program and its teacher, Ms. Season Mhoon, Joshua found his niche.
Last month, he starred in his school’s production of “And a Child Shall Lead.” The play was performed as part of a district-wide middle school festival, and to sweeten the deal, Joshua was one of three students from Travis named to the festival’s All-Star cast. This is a big deal for any student, especially Joshua.
As a student with special needs, Joshua has faced many challenges. He is an epileptic, has cerebral palsy, a speech impairment, ADHD and autism. When Ms. Mhoon approached Joshua’s parents, Walter and Alicia, about him joining the theatre program, they were incredibly grateful for this opportunity. Walter says,
Alicia adds, ”It just goes to show you that just because you have a disability doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot for the stars. And I really believe that Ms. Mhoon has really pushed that.”
Ms. Mhoon sees Joshua the same as his parents – a boy first, his special needs second. She has this understanding because of her background. Ms. Mhoon grew up on stage, first as a Gerber baby and then later as an actress starring on Off-Off-Broadway in New York for five years. After her days on Broadway, she became a special education teacher.
“I love that population. I want to make those students feel safe,” she says. “I remember being a pageant in the 90s, and they asked what I would do to save the world. I said that I wanted there to be pageantries for students with special needs. I didn’t win, but guess what, 20 years later there are pageants for students with special needs.”
When she came to Travis Middle as a special education instructor, she saw the need for theatre and started a student club. Sixty students later and more growing interest, Travis administrators added theatre to the class schedule and hired Ms. Mhoon as the teacher.
When Ms. Mhoon built the theatre department, she invited all students – no matter their ability – to participate. This paved the way for students like Joshua to feel part of the school community and gain confidence in social settings.
“Joshua is more vocal now. His interaction with his friends has grown immensely,” Mhoon says of his growth. “He’s more self-directed. He knows where his friends are, he knows where to stand when we rehearse on stage. His teachers agree that he has grown not just academically but socially and emotionally. He’s loved. He’s loved by all.”
Travis Middle is incredibly proud of the inclusiveness of the theatre program, especially their esteemed leader, Principal Denise Anderson.
“Travis Middle School is lucky to have Mrs. Mhoon on our team,” says Anderson. “She goes above and beyond to ensure that all students are included in her drama program.”
For students interested in theatre or other fine arts activities, contact your child’s school today. An opportunity to change the game for your child could be right around the corner.