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CRUSADER WAY: Claire Mengwasser ‘96 connects MSD, Helias Catholic students through music

Posted Date: 04/19/2024

CRUSADER WAY: Claire Mengwasser ‘96 connects MSD, Helias Catholic students through music

As a Crusader alumna and parent of a current Helias Catholic student, Claire (Kemna) Mengwasser ‘96 knew what a great opportunity she had to connect students at Missouri School for the Deaf with a live musical production when Helias Catholic students presented “Grease” as this year’s spring musical.

Claire, a speech-language pathologist at Missouri School for the Deaf, co-sponsors Music in Motion, a performance-based group that allows MSD high school students to experience music, art, and dance, as well as create and express themselves.

As part of the choreography team for Helias Catholic’s production of “Grease,” Claire knew her students Christina and Alexus, who have been learning about different types of dance, would enjoy seeing the musical’s dress rehearsal live on stage.

“‘Grease’ is full of dancing, upbeat music, fun costumes—and, most importantly, their peers,” Claire said. “In a full-circle moment, Alexus and Christina recognized a dance move that they had learned during Music in Motion practice, and they started to hand jive along with the performers on stage.”

Norlian Vickers, who is a staff interpreter at MSD and professor at William Woods University as well as co-sponsor of Music in Motion, assigned her WWU students scenes and songs from “Grease” to practice interpreting in American Sign Language in order to provide full access to what was being said on stage.

“Her students did an amazing job in a situation that many interpreters never get to experience—live theater,” Claire said. “They also were able to interact with MSD and Helias students.”

Helias Catholic introduced American Sign Language classes for credit in the World Language Department for the first time this school year. Students in these classes were invited to join in on the fun while practicing ASL with their peers who are deaf.

“It was great to see Helias students turn off their voices and use their hands to communicate,” Claire said. “They were able to ask WWU students about the interpreting program and their experience learning to sign. In addition, Helias students were able to learn more about deaf culture and the isolation from family that can happen when you are deaf.”

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