Brenda Corley, who created the blueprint for a “wheelchair dance” in the late 1990s and taught special education students at Tyler ISD for 28 years, is set to retire.
Corley, special education teacher at Wayne D. Boshears Center for Exceptional Programs School, is the originator of the wheelchair tradition that has been taking place at Boshears Center for decades.
The tradition was originally started due to a video inspiration of a wheelchair dance with a ballerina, Corley said.
“I saw that the pushers would not necessarily need to memorize the dance if I could ‘call’ it from the sidelines. I began by offering a wheelchair dance class once a week,” she said.
During her years of teaching, Corley said she has been particularly proud of the wheelchair dance group.
“The students in the wheelchairs have enjoyed the sensory experience as the pushers (staff, general education students, and special education students) have learned complicated dance patterns. We have performed for special events at school, elementary schools, and community events,” she said. “I was the choreographer but my students contributed ideas.”
Throughout the wheelchair performance history, the tradition has not only stayed among Boshears students but has also transmitted its way to incorporate Jones Elementary, which is the school that the campus location is shared with. Pushers of the wheelchair dance group have been students at Jones, faculty and even other special education Boshears students, said Corley.
“I think when we had the students who were pushers, they gained confidence in what they could do. They were doing the exact same thing the adults were, they had the responsibility of pushing someone on a wheelchair, and being responsible for them and their well-being. The kids who are sitting in the wheelchairs love the action, the movement, going around, all the colors, and all the things that are happening, they just love that and sometimes they can hold on to a prop and wave it around,” she said.
As she approaches her retirement as an educator, Corley reminisced about other memories she has experienced being part of the special education department.
“I loved watching my student experience lightbulb moments such as the first time John walked independently or learned the school song, the one and only time Joanna stood independently thanks to being up to her shoulders in the warm water of the spa, when Marcus figured out how to move his hands to make the marbles on the title…..,” she said.
Corley said it’s the special “first time” moments with students that made up a lot of her education career, which is something she will never forget and miss taking part of.
“If I know the reason a kid is succeeding is because I put them in the right position, and I’ve given them the right tools, and I’ve encouraged them in the right way and then they succeed, then that’s great,” she said.
Brooke Parker, director at Wayne D. Boshears Center, mentioned the excitement of the wheelchair dance over the years, but also mentioned how the dance is set to live on.
“All the hard work that Brenda has put into wheelchair dance over the years, we’re excited about what she has done and the work she has done to be able to pass it on to another teacher in order to continue this for our students,” she said. “Something that started very small in her eyes of impacting students in her own classroom now impacts our entire school, and any student that might come in the future. It gives them an opportunity to be involved in something new and innovative and all related to the fine arts, so it’s very special.”
For those who want to witness one of Corley’s last choreographed dance performances, Tyler ISD will be hosting an ArtsFest event this weekend on Saturday, which will include a wheelchair dance performance in partnership with Jones elementary choir.
The art festival is a one-day event consisting of performances and artwork from Tyler ISD campuses hosted by the Tyler ISD Visual and Performing arts. The event will be starting at 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Tyler Legacy High School, with a performance of the wheelchair dance group at 2 p.m.