Gateway Academy graduates to perform rock concert at commencement

Gateway Academy will graduate nine students at a commencement ceremony in Mesa. (Submitted photo)

When graduating senior Owen Wilson started at Gateway Academy, a school serving twice exceptional students on the Autism spectrum, he was in third grade at a time when he couldn’t read and rarely spoke.

Mr. Wilson was often afraid to speak out, due to past negative experiences, according to a press release. He grew up in a family with three older autistic brothers and a parent on the spectrum.

Nine years later, Mr. Wilson is an avid reader, his teachers call him an excellent student and he’s graduating from Gateway Academy. In the fall, he will head to The Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery.

Mr. Wilson will joins the eight other students in his class for Gateway’s graduation commencement services at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 23 at the Mesa Community College Performing Arts Center.

“He is one of the sweetest and kindest young men that I have watched develop and move on to greatness,” Executive Director and CEO, O. Robin Sweet said in a prepared statement.

“We are so looking forward to seeing Owen perform in the Rock Concert on graduation day. I am just amazed and blown away by these students every year.”

The Rock Concert will feature all nine graduates and will conclude with two of their own songs.

Throughout the year, Mr. Wilson, like others attending Gateway Academy, participated in an after-school rock band. As part of the curriculum, Gateway utilizes a digital music program which teaches students, who are not instrumentally inclined, how to create music electronically.

Two music therapists, who developed the rock band curriculum, teach the students. As students learn each instrument, they combine the sounds to give the students experience playing as a group.

It’s not just seniors making music. Dani Stephenson, a junior at Gateway Academy is an accomplished piano and guitar student, who has written some original music that the band performs.

Another student, Joseph Salomon plays the guitar, and is a lead singer the group. Ms. Sweet says they look like a mini rock band performing.

“This program has really brought students out of their shell, and you would never know, after watching these kids perform in their rock band, that they have autism or these were the kids getting bullied and beat up at other schools. It’s just incredible to see the progress they’ve made,” she said.

Of those graduating, Joey Peller, Cory Gould, Chris Kinder, Alex Sikorski (valedictorian) and Tru Steinberg are from Scottsdale. Other graduates include Ellis Totman, James Marks and Blake Wise.

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