There’s a fashion show in McDonald County, Missouri this week. It won’t feature any famous supermodels or designer brands—but it will feature something pretty special: opportunity for kids with special needs. This is thanks to a statewide education and resource agency for people with autism.
Peter Alumbaugh, a special education teacher for McDonald County schools, is neck deep in preparations for his annual Fashion Week. This isn’t your stereotypical fashion week – it’s inclusive, and 50% of the models have developmental disabilities. McDonald County is in extreme rural Missouri—the southwest tip of the state.
Alumbaugh says after attending Fashion Week in Bentonville, Arkansas, he had the idea to incorporate this event at his own school. He saw this as an opportunity for his students who couldn’t participate in other school programs like band or sports.
"And we thought, let’s just make it a school-wide assembly to where every single child within our school is coming to cheer on our kids who have had limited opportunities in the past, and really give those kids a time to shine.”
After lots of positive feedback last year, Alumbaugh and his team extended the fashion show to the entire school district. This year’s Fashion Week involves students from nine different schools.
Alumbaugh says this all came together thanks to their partnership with Project ACCESS. He received training through this program, and originally partnered with Dr. Edna Smith from Project ACCESS for formal training to help a struggling student.
“As we went through the training with Dr. Edna Smith, we began to make a lot of progress trying to reach the goals we were trying to reach with him, utilizing those strategies we learned from her and Project ACCESS.”
Now, he’s working with the organization on Fashion Week and other projects, including a student trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras to teach these kids how to navigate a loud, celebratory environment.
Project ACCESS, based at Missouri State University, offers similar training and collaboration for teachers across the state. Its director, Joanie Armstrong, discussed their new training program called the Project ACCESS Autism Credential.
“The participants come to a central location twice a month for two facilitated trainings that last about three hours each time.”
Armstrong added that in between these trainings, a Project ACCESS representative will visit these participant’s classrooms for personalized coaching. A program in the works includes a virtual classroom and a monthly Skype call between teachers and a panel of experts
Alumbaugh is extremely grateful for his training and collaboration with Project ACCESS, and says that he can see the positive impact on his students.
For one boy with a physical impairment, walking an average fashion show runway would be difficult. But Alambaugh said his teacher introduced him to some videos from other runways, and the boy was inspired.
“And now, he’s learning to walk with his walker independently so that he can walk the runway for MC Fashion week this show.”
Alumbaugh adds that he’s excited for this student and others to shine and be cheered on by their peers and the community.
McDonald County Fashion Week is this week, aligning National Autism Month and National Autism Day, which was Tuesday.