Bronxville Junior Organizes ‘Sensory-Light’ Movie Event for Students who Prefer a Less Intense Experience
For many, the experience of being in a theater or stadium among thousands of others for a live event is second to none. For some, though, the lights seem too bright and the sounds too loud - to the point that the experience becomes grueling.
Bronxville junior Matthew Pasquele has observed first-hand how difficult this can be, as well as how the right environment can create a whole different experience. He and his family recently attended a sensory-light production of The Nutcracker with his brother who has special needs and is also a student in Bronxville. Matthew, who is the president of the high school's Film Club, came up with the idea of creating a sensory-light experience for students to enjoy a movie. He brought the concept to club advisor Mr. Doyle, who immediately embraced it, and the two began formulating a plan.
But Matthew didn’t stop there. He drew upon a connection he made with Vittorio Maalouf who works at a company called Market.Through a partnership that Market has with Smiley, it makes products that deliver messages about happiness, gratitude and positivity. Market donated over a thousand dollars worth of its popular Smiley Plush basketballs to students attending the sensory-free movie. These ‘plushies’ can be used as pillows or be squeezed if a student needs to release tension or find comfort during a difficult moment. Vittorio told Matthew that he appreciated his efforts to raise awareness of and celebrate people’s differences, as well as creating an opportunity for them to feel included.
Matthew says that he has always known that the Bronxville school is “an exceptional place” for students enrolled in Special Classes because of the efforts that the entire student body makes to be kind and friendly.
“Bronxville is ‘top tier’ when it comes to inclusion,” said Matthew. “I’m so glad that my brother goes to a school in a place where he is respected and has made friends. It makes me incredibly proud.”
To the delight of students in the district’s four Special Classes, along with their teachers Ms. Vafeades, Mrs. Wood, Mr. Clarke, and Mrs. Azria, the movie took place in February. As the lights were dimmed - but not turned off - and the sound was adjusted to an acceptable level, students settled in with their plushies as Monsters Inc. began playing.
Director of Pupil Personnel Services Christine Dowd, who also helped Matthew organize the event said: "Part of what makes Bronxville so distinctive is our ability to bring students together from all three schools for moments just like this. I am so proud of Matthew's initiative in creating a space for our special class students to enjoy a movie in a stress free and fun way. The impact of this moment was tremendous, and it is a clear example of the District's emphasis on inclusion and social and emotional learning. I am looking forward to more collaborative opportunities just like this one. The students' smiles and excitement that afternoon said it all!"
Matthew points back to his days at the elementary school and the Be3 assemblies for creating a foundation for acceptance and inclusion. “Those assemblies were important and, even though they were fun, we took the message seriously.”
When asked if he hopes to organize another sensory-light event, Matthew didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely! I get such joy out of helping people with special needs and seeing how happy (the students) were after the movie was really rewarding for me.”