Brownwood High School junior Shali Clark has ventured into a myriad of activities including singing, dancing, cooking. She works in the restaurant owned by her parents, the Thai Chop Kitchen in Brownwood.
And Thursday night, the 17-year-old will appear on stage for the first time. She’ll have the role of a fairy in the theatre department’s production of the Shakespearean comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Shali won’t have any spoken lines, but she will sing and dance with other fairies, who are also responsible for all of the set changes in the show.
Being interviewed for a newspaper article Monday afternoon was an entirely new adventure for Shali, and she pondered each question before giving short answers.
“She’s very shy,” Shali’s Thai-born mother, Arinrachannee Chaipin — who goes by Anna — explained.
“Down syndrome kids are very shy.”
Shali sat at a table in the Thai Chop Kitchen, somewhat uncertain, perhaps, why a stranger was asking her questions.
Also present, in addition to her mother, were Brownwood High School theatre director Shannon Lee and Lee’s daughter, Lilly, a sophomore who is the costume designer for the play.
Shali’s father, Michael Clark, was unable to be present.
Shali is one of 14 “special population” students — a term Brownwood school officials use in place of the more familiar special education or special needs — who are involved with the Brownwood High School theatre department.
Shali is the only one of the 14 who will be on stage in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“We’ve been given the opportunity this year to have several of our special population students in the theatre department, and this is the first time that we’ve had them kind of en masse,” Lee said earlier this week.
“This is my first year to have special population students in my class. It’s been wonderful to get to work with them and get them involved in this. I have one young lady that I had last year in class and it took me 12 weeks to even get her to tell me her name.”
Lee was referring to Shali.
“This year, to see how far she’s come — she’s dancing on the stage with all of the rest of the fairies,” Lee said. “She’s singing. Not just that she’s doing a great job on the stage, but she brings light into our other kids, because she’s just always happy and always positive.
“When you’re around positivity, it makes you positive. Having her in our class has been really really amazing.”
October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
According to the National Down Syndrome Society website:
“In every cell in the human body there is a nucleus, where genetic material is stored in genes. Genes carry the codes responsible for all of our inherited traits and are grouped along rod-like structures called chromosomes. Typically, the nucleus of each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are inherited from each parent. Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.
“This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome. A few of the common physical traits of Down syndrome are low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm – although each person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees, or not at all.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome, making Down syndrome the most common chromosomal condition. About 6,000 babies with Down syndrome are born in the United States each year, the website states.
“I’m working on getting to know them better, to know what their strengths are and what their limits are and finding ways to utilize them in productions,” Lee said.
If Shali reverted to a degree of shyness while being interviewed in her parents’ restaurant, Lee described a student who has blossomed.
“She loves everybody and she loves to give hugs, she loves to give high-fives, and she’s never sad,” Lee said. “She’s never upset, she giggles and she tickles people.
“She’s just happy and wonderful to be around, and when you are around somebody like that, then you’re just happy. She just makes everybody happy around her. She just makes everybody around her better. We’re just better people for being around Shali. We’re more patient, we speak kinder, we love harder … we’re just better people.”
Shali’s mom said her daughter loves to perform and is taking dance classes.
Shali said she’s learning ballet and hip-hop — and she prefers hip-hop. At Lee’s urging, Shali dialed up a song on her phone, walked to an open space in the restaurant and showed off some dance moves.
“She’s tenacious,” Lee said. “She doesn’t give up. There’s not anything that Shali thinks that she can’t do. She just knows that she can do all of it. She comes up to me when we’re practicing the songs and says ‘I can sing that song.’ And so she stands next to me and she sings to me.
“Or she’ll say ‘look, I can do this dance’ and she’ll just show me. There’s nothing that Shali can’t do in Shali’s mind.”
Lee said she sang “The Lullaby Song,” which the fairies sing in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” for Shali. Shali recorded the song, went home and came back the next day knowing the song, Lee said.
Shali named some of her friends: Berkeley, Jackson, Gavin
Lilly Lee — whose goal is to become a special education teacher — said some of her fellow students don’t really know how to interact with Shali. “I think the majority are willing to learn,” Lilly said.
“She’s a person.”
Anna Chaipin said when she encounters young people who say they can’t do something, she has a message: Look at Shali.”