Students at the Kentucky School for the Deaf learn hip hop dance through a grant from the Kentucky Center Access Services Arts Access Education program.

Students at the Kentucky School for the Deaf learn hip hop dance through a grant from the Kentucky Center Access Services Arts Access Education (AAE) program. Photo submitted

By Susan Riddell

Music is meant to be heard. But hearing is not the only way to connect to music.

That’s a big message that students at Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) received recently.

Through a grant from the Kentucky Center Access Services Arts Access Education (AAE) program, KSD students were provided with multiple weeks of arts classes focusing on hip hop dancing and mural production.

The hip hop instruction lasted for two weeks and was facilitated by dance instructor Safiyyah Rasool.

Rasool modeled age-appropriate hip hop moves for the elementary students and helped them put together two dance routines, said social studies, reading and language arts teacher Karen Schulz.

“Some of the multi-handicapped students smiled so brightly and demonstrated a feeling of success as they danced,” Schulz said, referring to their performance in front of middle school students.

To accommodate students who couldn’t hear the music well, Rasool used a stronger bass to help them feel the vibrations so they could keep in time with the music.

Even with that assistance, Schulz said the hip-hop class would work as a learning model in any school setting.

“The dance style is current and motivating for the students,” she said. “All schools and all kinds of students could benefit from this experience.”

Kentucky Department of Education arts and humanities consultant Robert Duncan agreed that these opportunities are something all students should receive while in school.

“All students in Kentucky schools deserve full and equitable access to high quality arts experiences, and visual or hearing impairments should not keep this from happening,” Duncan said. “People experience art, music, dance and drama through more than one sense, so we have to capitalize on the abilities that a student has rather than the category of disability a student may have.”

For the mural project, students worked for a month alongside visual artist Patricia Ritter creating a mural for the middle school. Ritter is active with The Kentucky Arts Council, VSA of Kentucky and The Tennessee Arts Commission.

Paula Meckes has taught at KSD for more than 30 years. She said the mural was an experience staff members have wanted to give students once they started an arts and humanities unit on Latin American culture with students last year.

Students came up with their own theme for the mural, and were then guided by Ritter to complete it. All middle school students worked on the mural with a handful of those presenting it at a cultural fair in May. During the fair, students worked with attendees on creating a small-scale mural using techniques and information they learned from Ritter.

“Our mural was created so that we can add to it if we want to, and now we have the skills and materials to do so,” Meckes said. “The students loved working on it, and we are still finishing up little things on it here and there.”

For the students, the mural project served different purposes. For some, it was about the process of creating the mural. Others faced the challenge of deciding on the best content for the mural, Meckes said.

“During the planning stage, the students really had to think about what was important to them related to their Deaf culture and our school,” she said. “What makes them unique students? They had to articulate that and at the start, they had some difficulty communicating how they felt.”

Ritter soon showed them how to plan an extensive art project. Along the way, students worked on the mural in pairs, groups and individually.

“All of them have pride in the mural, and they can see their contribution to the work and the process,” Meckes said. “The project also enhanced our study of Latin American culture and the purpose of murals.”

Mary Claire O’Neal, program director for VSA Kentucky, said there are many programs out there similar to the grant KSD received.

“We do programs in schools like this at KSD, KSB and schools in every Congressional District of Kentucky,” O’Neal said. “We are partners with the Division of Learning Services at KDE. We have an adjudicated roster of teaching artists who are mentored in adaptive strategies in their art forms, as well as professional developments with the Universal Design for Learning and Kentucky Core Academic Standards.”

Paula Meckes,, (859) 239-7017
Karen Schulz,, (859) 239-7017