Faced with stay-at-home orders and the shuttering of non-essential businesses and schools, BHMA closed its day program in mid-March. Our community quickly rallied to move to a virtual format—ensuring that our individuals stayed connected to each other, maintained their access to high quality services, and were able to keep creating music. As the weeks pass, BHMA's various departments continue to add new classes and implement different strategies to help our individuals remain engaged. Staff, program participants, parents, and caregivers have all done their part to make virtual learning work for everyone. Below are a few of the ways we have adjusted our program in response to COVID-19:
Individual Lessons: Though lag times on video calls can make playing in unison difficult, music instructors have found creative ways to teach. Some send recordings for individuals to play along with, while others have been using an application that allows them to virtually accompany singers when preparing for Variety Hour performances. Starting with a video of an individual performing a song, music instructors are able to record themselves playing along with the video and add in multiple frames of accompaniment.
Bands: Our working bands have Zoom calls a few times each week, meeting both as a group and individually with instructors. Troupe members, as well as our other professional musicians, face uncertainty around when their next gig and paycheck will be, but the group continues to develop its repertoire and practice new material.
Variety Hour: Virtual Variety Hour takes place on Friday evenings, using the aforementioned technology to combine pre-recorded performances and song introductions for a small roster of musicians each week. As Director of Music & Music Vocation Jacob Burnstein describes, he organized the virtual Variety Hours as a way “to let everyone know we are still here, to heal with music, and frankly, to give people something to do on a Friday night.” The virtual performances "give everyone that feeling that they still belong to a community.”
Morning meeting: Each day begins with a morning meeting run by Life Skills Teachers Angela Papianou and Leigh Daniels, similar to how the schedule normally runs at BHMA. The class averages forty individuals each session and involves group games, activities, and nutrition lessons. Morning meeting helps begin the day on a positive note.
Potluck lunch: Life Skills Teacher Cindy Catuogno hosts a potluck lunch with over thirty participants every day of the week. The content changes each session—from question of the day and current events, to visual arts and science quizzes. Potluck lunch is a relaxed forum for individuals to spend time together. As Catuogno describes, “I think what has been most encouraging and successful about these groups is individuals' desire to be active and to connect with one another."
Reading Roundtable: Catuogno also offers a weekly Reading Roundtable, where staff and students take turns reading books together. So far they have completed “The Tale of Despereaux,” “Little House in the Big Woods,” and “The Phantom Tollbooth," and they are now in the middle of "Chester and Gus." Written by BHMA parent Cammie McGovern, who made a special appearance at the roundtable, the novel is about the bond between a boy with autism and his service dog.
Self-Advocacy: Papianou and Daniels also host a Self-Advocacy class twice a week. The group discussions focus on advocacy in different settings—at home, at BHMA, and in the workplace. The class helps to reinforce and expand the skills participants have previously developed during in-person classes.
Health & Wellness
Dance, Yoga, and Zumba: Every week Dance & Movement Supervisor Mary Ann Holmes hosts virtual lessons, Yoga and Zumba classes, and Vocational Dance meetings. Managing 10-25 participants in each class, Holmes says the mantra is “we are flexible.” During this unprecedented time, she is amazed by the individuals' ability to modify, do something new, and connect in this way. The nature of her instruction has changed, but "it seems like everyone enjoys getting together in these classes to not only see each other, but dance, stretch and breathe together too,” she writes.
Fitness: Life Skills Teacher Leigh Daniels has also started a twice-weekly fitness class, attracting about 10-15 individuals for each session. The group participates in thirty minutes of high intensity interval training workouts with cardio and strength exercises, helping promote healthy living at home.
Emotional Well-Being: Clinicians Maddie Mercier and Mary Marchesani have been checking in with our individuals regularly. On Zoom calls, they discuss everything from coping strategies and what people are doing to keep their minds active, to what shows they have been watching. The conversations are student-driven, with the clinicians offering support or just a listening ear. “It's very important for people to feel connected and that they aren't alone as they process what is going on,” writes Marchesani. When the time comes to transition back to in-person learning, Mercier and Marchesani will guide everyone through the process.
In the months of April and May, BHMA’s staff members drove in car caravans all across the Pioneer Valley—from South Hadley and Longmeadow, to Springfield and Florence. Organized by Clinician Maddie Mercier, the six car parades allowed us to see our local individuals from a safe distance and highlighted what a special community we have.