Success Story

Irmo High School's arts magnet helps put artistic talents

of special needs students on center stage


When Irmo High School International School for the Arts became a magnet school last year, school leaders and arts staff had a goal of making participation in the arts inclusive of all students in the school. That goal was realized this school year as students and staff held several events and performances, including two showcasing the artwork of special needs students at the school.

School officials say Irmo High School’s “Be a Fan” talent show and “Exceptional Art” exhibit helped broaden students’ perspectives on art and the role of art in unifying groups and educating people about special needs students.

“Part of our goal with the arts magnet is for students to use art to make important connections with the world around them,” said Irmo High School Principal David Riegel. “For the special needs students, the events provided them with skills and a sense of pride about their abilities. For our other students and general public audiences, it broadened their understanding of what our special needs students are able to accomplish through art…The purpose of a magnet program is to bring diverse groups together, and these two events are examples of how the arts magnet at Irmo High is doing just that.”

When the school opened its new state-of-the-art auditorium this winter, the first performance was a presentation of “A Christmas Carol” which featured a special needs student in the role of the Ghost of Christmas Future. But that was just the beginning of the arts staff’s efforts to be inclusive, school officials said. 

Under the leadership of Irmo High junior Breanna Norton, International Baccalaureate (IB) program students at the school organized the “Be A Fan” talent show in which IB arts students and special needs students performed solos and group numbers side by side, highlighting the talents students developed in adaptive chorus and adaptive music. 

“The biggest thing we were trying to do with the showcase was to show the special needs students that they belong here,” Norton said. “They are part of our school, and they can perform and be in shows just like anyone else. We also wanted to show students in the general education population that special needs students are amazing people and we have a lot in common.”

Following the success of the “Be a Fan” talent showcase, the visual arts department planned an event to showcase the work of the adaptive art classes. Working with special education teachers, Irmo High art teacher Audra Yesnach created the “Exceptional Art” exhibit, organizing the show around classroom lessons on great artists such as Kandinsky, Mattisse, and Van Gogh, as well as various artistic techniques such as pointillism. The highlight of the two-week exhibit was a special reception, which was catered with food prepared by the special education department’s job skills classes. 

Yesnach said the May 6 - May 22 exhibit allowed the school to highlight work that most students and parents would not see otherwise. 

“These students face challenges that most people never dream about, and they represent a unique sector of our school population,” she said. “The exhibit gave us a chance to celebrate their accomplishments and highlight their achievements.” 

Riegel added, “None of this would be possible without the launch of our new magnet program and opening of our new Center for the Arts this school year. Expectations were high for what the magnet would mean for our school, but it has sparked new ideas and brought so much more to the students and community than we could have ever imagined.” 


Irmo High School International School for the Arts
School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties
Irmo, South Carolina

Posted June 2015