Glenelg High School students, including those with special needs, take part in "A Broadway Revue" during a spring 2012 performance.
Glenelg High School students, including those with special needs, take part in "A Broadway Revue" during a spring 2012 performance. (Photo courtesy of Kristine M.)

For the past three years, the Columbia Center for the Theatrical Arts has offered programs for special needs youth in Howard County, and now with grants from Columbia Bank and CVS/Caremark, providing theatrical outlets for those youth is a little easier.

"This is helping kids with speech therapy, with social skills," said Melissa Woodring Rosenberg, executive director of CCTA. "They're building confidence, speaking skills, eye contact, and they're learning to work as a team."


CCTA, which announced the grants in December, was founded 40 years ago and offers a wide range of theatrical programs for youth in the county and region. More than 30,000 students in the area attend CCTA's curriculum-based shows every year, 600 are in the conservatory with classes, camps and musical theater workshops, and about 35 participate in special needs programming — the Expanding Horizons: Broadway Kids and Teens program.

"Our mission is to educate through the arts," Rosenberg said. "That's the basic thing."

The $500 grant from the Columbia Bank and the $1,500 grant from CVS/Caremark are helping fund programming at three locations in the county: St. John's Parish Day School, Glenelg High School and Lime Kiln Middle School.

The special needs programming was created in partnership with the Loyola University Maryland Clinical Center's Columbia Campus and Toby Orenstein, director of Toby's Dinner Theatre and founder of CCTA. Soon, the Howard County Public School System partnered in the programming as well.

"It was going to be started with students with autism, or spectrum disorders, but there's a lot of kids with Downs Syndrome or communication disorders," Rosenberg said. "It's everything. Whatever need is there, we try to address it."

At Glenelg, an inclusive theater project with the school's special education and theater department led to 10 special needs students participating in November's performance of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown!"

"There were four wheelchairs up on stage," Rosenberg said. "Everyone just blended right in, and students who may not have been part of the group were included."

At Lime Kiln, in Fulton, class begins with students meeting with Loyola graduate speech clinicians, who identify areas the students need to work on, like eye contact. Then CCTA instructors bring in a musical theater component to help the kids.

"It doesn't feel like therapy," Rosenberg said. "It's fun. It brings the learning to life; it's hands-on, it's exciting. It's a good outlet for the kids ... these are the kind of things that bring them out. We've had kids whose parents don't even know they can sing. They don't speak very much, but they can sing. It's a whole different way to express themselves."

At St. John's Parish Day School in Ellicott City, a Saturday morning class is taught by a CCTA instructor and a speech pathologist. With classes in the fall and spring, each seasonal session culminates in an original performance. The spring session begins Jan. 26.

"Those kids get up there and they get to perform and their parents get to clap for them," said Carmen Samuel, special projects coordinator for CCTA. "That affirmation of being on stage isn't something (the students) may get. And the parents don't always have the opportunity to clap."