TAMPA, Fla. — James Brown. Motown. Taylor Swift.
Those are the hot music requests Laura Meehan gets all the time from her students.
A music specialist at Caminiti Exceptional Center in Tampa, Meehan was recently named a Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year.
Her students with special needs, from pre-K kids to young adults, excel in music education and performance thanks to her tireless desire to boost confidence and connection through song.
"Music connects in various parts of the brain, rather than language which is just one portion of the brain," says Meehan. "For my students with disabilities, it's not any different. They know the songs they like, know the songs they don't like. I have students who have a lot of trouble with communication, but they can sing a song."
Meehan's parents both had disabilities, so a big part of her approach is connection to peers and the community at large, inclusion and acceptance through something we all love.
Whatever her students' abilities and challenges, Meehan finds a way to reach them, with upbeat verve and tireless energy.
And a lot of singing, playing and moving.
"Music is for everyone, and it really is a way to bring all of us together," Meehan says.
She often stresses playing popular music that her students will also hear on the radio, at restaurants and stores.
"That's important, making those connections, to peers, to the community," says Meehan, who will now compete for statewide teacher honors.