LEOMINSTER — The energy inside the packed high school auditorium on Friday morning was positively electric for the annual Life Skills Talent Show, a popular event that Leominster High School principal Steve Dubzinski calls “the greatest day in life.” the year”.
“It makes you very proud to be from this school,” said longtime Life Skills teacher Patricia Carlson. “I think it teaches the public more than the students, that we all have these similar hopes and dreams.”
A dozen and a half of the total 100 life skills students gave energetic performances on stage before an audience of more than 1,200 people who filled the auditorium to the brim, to the point where there was only standing room in back. The loud and cheering crowd included students, school staff and teachers, bus drivers and families who clapped loudly, sang and clapped at each performance.
Life Skills participant Joe Liddy sang Ed Sheeran’s hit “Thinking Out Loud” at the start of the two-hour show, to which the audience cheered rhythmically, clapped loudly and waved the flashlights of their smartphone, the modern equivalent of a lighter held a concert. When Liddy broke into a breakdance at the end of the song, the audience immediately rose to their feet and gave her a standing ovation while cheering wildly.
Jami Ferrariar-Torres performed a dance number to a bass-heavy song while wearing a blue LHS hoodie, which drew louder cheers from the audience. She was followed by an entourage of rapping students, led by Junior Brevette and Matthieu Cotoni. Cotoni and his twin brother Jason Cotoni were co-masters of ceremonies for the show and their little brother Jack Cotoni was among the students who waved flags on stage during their performance.
The event felt and looked normal after two years of dealing with coronavirus precautions, with the majority of those in attendance maskless.
Carlson perched on the side of the stage at ground level, encouraging the performers and giving them thumbs-up and hand signals to lead when needed and capturing photos and video.
Dubzinski and other staff and students cheered on the performers from backstage, including Eli Lopez who dressed in all black and sang Glass Animals’ “Sometimes All I Think About You” attracting more cheers.
Maya Conception caused a stir with a moving rendition of Andra Day’s song “Rise Up,” all decked out in a shimmering silver sequin jacket. When she nailed the song’s first high note and all subsequent ones, the audience went wild each time and gave her a huge standing ovation.
Life Skills students and several mentors on stage rocked, sang and clapped to the songs, and a young woman next on stage held up a homemade sign that read, “Make Some Noise.”
Courtney Burns, Cassie Fisher, Alivia Rodriguez and Amber Walls donned hats and more to sing Cyndi Lauper’s women’s anthem, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” while Carlson’s co-teacher Kevin Hadmack played the father waving his finger disapprovingly, making the crowd laugh.
At one point during the show, all the performers lined up and took turns crossing the stage one by one, dancing to the beat of the song, which drew loud cheers, then they slowly danced together in pairs to a video pre-recorded by Lucia Ramos. singing “Please Forgive Me” by Canadian rocker Bryan Adams.
A group number featured the famous “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from the movie “Encanto,” then while a song by Usher played, the students threw swag into the audience, including a caught soccer ball by a young man who enthusiastically applauds his friends around him. Another group number closed the show, during which the Life Skills students and mentors wrapped themselves in group hugs and took turns showing off their dance and breakdance moves around the stage.
After the final number, Dubzinski thanked everyone for coming and said it’s hard to explain “how special this high school is and how special this day is” unless you’re there. .
“I can’t say enough about the connection between these two groups of people,” he said of the performers and the audience, “but really, we are one.”
Carlson said the Life Skills special education program is “separated into older and younger children” and she teaches the adult group. She said some of the students who had “climbed” had returned to do the show, an event that has been happening since she started teaching at LHS 15 years ago. It was the first regular in-person show since COVID – last year they “had a very small outdoor version” due to the pandemic and the year before it was canceled all together.
“It was the first time freshmen, sophomores and juniors saw it,” Carlson said. “It’s just as amazing every year. The students are fantastic and amazing.
The show is a fundraiser for the Life Skills program. Money raised from the $1 admission collected at the gate goes toward the cost of life skills programs, field trips, her greenhouse, Special Olympics t-shirts, and other needs.
“The whole point of this thing is to get everyone to come see the students and get to know them,” Carlson said, adding that student mentors are part of the Best Buddies program. “It’s more than a fundraiser, it’s a way to include them all.”
She said the show came together thanks to a lot of hard work from the dozen or so mentors who help run the show along with the Life Skills program and the students who made all the props.
Carlson said that in addition to students’ family members, staff often invite their own family and friends to the show. This year, she brought her mother.
“People from all over come to watch,” she said.
“The unity and the feeling of togetherness is palpable,” Dubzinski said after the show. “Students, staff, families, alumni and friends come together to celebrate our students. There is nothing like it, it’s a great tradition.
One of Carlson’s students jokingly asked her if she had brought any tissues as she often cried. When asked what it was like to see the Life Skills students on stage, beaming in front of the audience, she said it was amazing.
“Every year I’m proud of them, but I’m just as proud of the audience,” Carlson said. “It gives them an awareness that we are all the same. We’re all the same and it’s okay to be different because those differences are what make you special.