NAfME Member Builds Inclusive Classroom for Student


Photo by Boyd Huppert, KARE 11 News
Photo by Boyd Huppert, KARE 11 News



“I don’t believe in ‘I can’t,'” says Mrs. Christopherson.

Recently, NAfME member Gina Christopherson was featured in an article by Kare 11 News about her student, Ethan Och, who has a form of muscular dystrophy. Instead of letting her student quit playing drums in the band, Ethan’s favorite school activity, Gina turned to technology to help Ethan continue his love of music. Mrs. Christopherson got the idea from Ethan himself, when she saw him playing with a drum app on his smartphone. “My first day digging through iTunes I downloaded 75 different apps.” says Mrs. Christopherson. 

Today Ethan is back in the percussion section, drumming on an iPad hooked to an amplifier. Several of those apps are now loaded on an iPad from the school’s special education department, giving Ethan an assortment of drums, cymbals and a keyboard, which he plays with his fingers. 

“Exactly the same as his classmates,” says Mrs. Christopherson, “just a different mode.” 

Mrs. Christopherson says it took some convincing before the Minnesota State High School League agreed that Ethan’s amplified music would be allowed in band competitions. But that was only one of the hurdles. When marching band season came Ethan cleared another, thanks to a baby stroller and a car battery that kept his amplifier powered as he rolled along with the Swanville High School band. “I could not understand how that would work,” said Ethan. He’s learned since not to doubt his music teacher. “In her mind anything’s possible.”

“You have those people that see barriers when they look at things, and those who see doors,” says Stephanie Och, Ethan’s mom. Mrs. Christopherson sees the entire Swanville community benefiting from Ethan’s iPad drumming. “It’s his success and we get to celebrate it too,” she says.

“One of my students put it best: ‘everyone has barriers–physical, mental, emotional, or learning, its how you deal with them that makes you or breaks you.’ In my classroom in Swanville, Minnesota the word “can’t” simply doesn’t exist. Students will tell me they are struggling, that something is difficult, or they need help but they don’t use ‘can’t’. Over the years I have had the pleasure of helping many students with various educational or physical barriers. Rather than allowing these to impede, we break through them!” –Gina Christopherson  






Gina will be presenting at the 3rd Annual NAfME National In-Service PreConference in Nashville, TN, Saturday, October 25th and Sunday, October 25th. This year’s preconference will focus solely on students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Our all-star set of clinicians will join K-12 teachers as well as parents and students with ASD to present this interactive, authentic, and practical seminar. One graduate credit and/or a certificate will be presented to teachers who complete the two day preconference.


2015 NAfME National In-Service PreConference Session Topics Include:

  • Creating Music Curriculum and Well-Structured Classrooms for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Using the iPad and other Assistive Technology for Students with Autism  
  • How-To Use Differentiated Instruction, Positive Behavioral Support, and a Developmental Relationship-Based Approach for Students with Autism
  • Building Inclusive Ensembles 
  • Breaking Barriers: Removing “Can’t” From the Classroom

 Don’t miss the In-Service EARLY BIRD RATE. The deadline is July 31!

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