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Empire High student starts United Sound chapter to help special education students learn instruments

United Sound
Posted at 6:21 AM, Apr 25, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A national program is making its mark locally after an Empire High School student started a new chapter at her school.

Senior Gianna Gibbons played in a United Sound concert last year, giving her inspiration to try to bring that to her school.

“I love seeing the joy on their faces when they're learning how to do something that they've never done before,” said Gibbons.

United Sound is a program that lets general education students teach special education students how to play instruments.

Brady Riel is a student currently enrolled in United Sound.

“I have gone every Friday we're learning a song called 'Jump in the Line'. And the notes we're learning are soup notes, donut notes and cake notes,” said Riel

Aubry Wilkes is the sponsor for the program at Empire.

And she says the program gives an opportunity to students who may not have had it before.

“Being able to offer students who wouldn't be normally part of a regular ensemble rehearsal, allowing them to learn music, to learn rhythm to connect with those other peer musicians, and have that concert experience at the end of each semester is powerful," said Wilkes.

But it also allows general education students the opportunity to teach.

“I think it's just been really cool to see how much work really goes into teaching and how rewarding it is to see your students like learn something that they hadn't learned before,” said Gibbons.

Students who teach in the program even get the chance to create their own lesson plans.

The class meets once a week before school for an hour.

Blake Phillips is a reporter for KGUN 9. Originally from St. Louis, Mo., Blake grew up in Sierra Vista. During his college tenure at the Missouri School of Journalism, Blake worked for the NBC affiliate KOMU-TV in Columbia. He is excited to return to a place he calls home and give back to the community in which he grew up. Share your story ideas and important issues with Blake by emailing