Skip to main content

West Valley City Journal

Extending and connecting opportunities for all students: Hunter High’s Finding Nemo

Nov 30, 2023 11:56AM ● By Julie Slama

About 34 Hunter High students will appear in the special needs performance of “Finding Nemo, Jr.” (Lynsay Carter/Hunter High)

Tears of joy likely will be shared by parents and educators as 20 students with special needs students perform “Finding Nemo, Jr.” 

Those students with differing abilities will be joined by 14 peers on the stage Dec. 7 and 8 at Hunter High, 4200 South 5600 West. Tickets are $7 including the online fee and are available on school website:

The show is directed by drama teacher Kjersti Parkes and features junior Whitney Rasmussen as Nemo, senior Angelly Velasquez as Dory, senior Ashton Smith as Crush, junior Isaac Ramos as Marlin and senior Nick Archuleta as Mr. Ray. 

Lynsay Carter, who has been a resource paraprofessional in a Hunter High special education classroom for 16 years, assists the students in the show along with the partner students, who she said are “100% friends.”

“We’re there to help our friends sparkle and shine,” she said. “Basically, we’re the fish in the ocean. We’re part of the show and will be dressed as fish or sharks to blend in, but we’re background and are just there to guide our students. We know their lines and the songs and we’re able to help if they need it at any point.”

Unlike well-known musicals, the students weren’t familiar with this show’s songs and had to learn them using their music books and a link Parkes shared with them. 

The students mastered the choreography as well.

“We do a lot of our movements, moving across the stage. It’s simple movements that my students can do, but it still looks like we’re swimming as jellyfish. My students are capable of so many things, so Ms. Parkes taught these kids simple dance moves that really makes it come together,” Carter said.

The cast has been rehearsing for 90 minutes two or three times per week since September. They’ll have a dress rehearsal afterschool before their performances.

It’s part of Hunter High’s unified theater class that was first offered last year after Rasmussen auditioned for the school play, following in her older brother’s footsteps. Carter said they realized they needed to offer a theater opportunity for students with special needs, much as the school does with its unified PE class and to play on their unified sports teams. 

“We have most of our severe special needs students and some of our mild to moderate students in the show,” she said. “The special needs and the theater students have really gravitated to each other. The theater kids have really taken our kids under their wing; it’s been amazing to see these friendships.”

The musical follows the school’s production of “The Little Mermaid,” using some of the same backdrops and props.

“Ms. Parkes is one of the most amazing theater teachers and it is extremely overwhelming to plan two plays at one time so it’s more practical to be able to share the same scenery and things,” Carter said.

Last year, Hunter’s first unified show was “Beauty and the Beast,” following the schoolwide production of “Cinderella.”

“This production shows how amazing our students can be and all of the abilities and things they can do,” Carter said. “A lot of people might not know or realize or understand how great these people are and the types of things they can accomplish, and they won’t, if these kids aren’t given these types of opportunities.” λ