Metro

Autistic students take star turns onstage at holiday festival

The Boston Higashi School held their annual Winter Music Festival.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The Boston Higashi School held their annual Winter Music Festival.

RANDOLPH — Four years ago on Christmas Eve, 18-year-old Jacob Glatter slipped and fell on black ice in his driveway and broke the femoral neck in his hip.

The injury left Glatter, who has autism, in a wheelchair for years — not because he needed it but because he was terrified to be without it.

Advertisement

On Thursday, however, Glatter’s wheelchair was nowhere to be found. A few months after enrolling at Boston Higashi School in Randolph, Glatter stood center stage for a solo vocal performance of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” as his classmates backed him up on drums.

“You did awesome,” Glatter’s mother, Pamela, told him afterward. “I’m very proud of you.”

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The moment was as hard won as it was gratifying. Like many families with children enrolled at the school for autistic children and young adults, the Glatters have heard plenty about what Jacob couldn’t do.

“I’m still in shock. I think until I watch it again I won’t believe it,” said Pamela Glatter, who lives in Syracuse, N.Y. “At his high school, they wouldn’t put him in a performance. They’d say he couldn’t do it.”

Glatter’s performance was part of the school’s Winter Music Festival, an annual tradition in which 150 students from preschool to age 22 sing, play instruments, and dance in front of family, friends, and teachers.

Advertisement

“I always have to go to the rehearsals because I am totally overwhelmed when I watch these kids,” said principal Deborah Donovan, whose son, Stephen, graduated from the school in 2012.

“Pointing out the little successes along the way, that’s the joy of the job because for so long parents are told what your child can’t do, what your child will never do,” Donovan said. “That’s not here at Boston Higashi School.”

The school was established in 1987 by the late Kiyo Kitahara, a Japanese educator who pioneered a method for teaching autistic children known as Daily Life Therapy, Donovan said.

She describes the methodology as “teaching children what to do instead of what not to do.” The approach emphasizes exercising, promoting emotional stability, and stimulating students’ intellectual side.

The technique is also used at Musashino Higashi Gakuen School in Tokyo, which Kitahara founded in 1964, according to the school’s website.

The festival included performances from the school’s jazz band, a medley of songs from the movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and a vocal rendition of “Simple Gifts” accompanied by a solo flute player.

The show was presented on a stage in the school’s gymnasium, which was decorated with paper snowflakes, tinsel, and posters created by students.

Randolph-12/22/16 The Boston Higashi School held their annual Winter Music Festival. The school has a unquie approach to teaching children with autism incorporating arts and music into their programs. John Tlumacki/Boston Globe(metro)

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Teacher Jackie Moniz dances with student Ali Rih.

“The expectations we have for them are so high,” said John Kolwaite, who oversees the middle and high school divisions. “My own children in the public school aren’t expected to play a musical instrument at the level these children are.”

Some students were assisted on stage and in the audience by their teachers. Glatter, for example, sang his solo as master teacher Jen Tomase stood behind him, clutching his hands and singing along.

“It blows my mind to see a teacher standing behind him that was just as nervous as he was,” Pamela Glatter said.

Kaname Ueno, who directs the jazz band, guided Thomas Yamazaki, 22, through a trombone solo of “The Raiders March” from the movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Ueno said the trombone has transformed Yamazaki, who has been at the school for about a decade.

“When he started trombone, his bad behavior dramatically decreased because his focus is just playing the trombone, music,” he said. “He just wants to play trombone.”

His father, Masashi, who lives in Stamford, Conn., said he’s amazed by Yamazaki’s musical abilities given that he can’t read words.

“That’s so special considering his intelligence level,” he said. “It’s really a wonder he can read [sheet music].”

Another student, Helen Coppenrath, 13, of Quincy, made her debut with the jazz band and performed a flute solo. Her mother, Julie, said the teenager has always been drawn to music.

“I was thrilled. It’s happiness that brings tears to your eyes,” Julie Coppenrath said. “She never stops amazing me.”

More photos:

Randolph-12/22/16 The Boston Higashi School held their annual Winter Music Festival. The Elementary students held their tamourines high during their performance. The school has a unquie approach to teaching children with autism incorporating arts and music into their programs. John Tlumacki/Boston Globe(metro)

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Randolph-12/22/16 The Boston Higashi School held their annual Winter Music Festival. Student Adam Garchali, 9, checks out Santa's beard. The school has a unquie approach to teaching children with autism incorporating arts and music into their programs. John Tlumacki/Boston Globe(metro)

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Randolph-12/22/16 The Boston Higashi School held their annual Winter Music Festival. Teacher Janell Palleschi hugs students Charles Dawson, 5 before the start. The school has a unquie approach to teaching children with autism incorporating arts and music into their programs. John Tlumacki/Boston Globe(metro)

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.
We hope you've enjoyed your free articles.
Continue reading by subscribing to Globe.com for just 99¢.
 Already a member? Log in Home
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com