March 9, 2022


by: admin


Tags: education, Festival, Jellybean, stars, Students


Categories: Special needs education

College students are the celebs on the Jellybean Competition | Training

There was laughter. There were tears. There was plenty of applause. But most of all, there was a huge sense of accomplishment on Friday.

The Jellybean Festival was first held eight years ago in 2014 after a Mexico, Missouri, drama teacher was inspired by Dr. Howard Martin’s play “Jellybean Conspiracy.” The event provides the opportunity for students with special needs in grades 6-12 to perform a talent in front of an audience. Some possibilities include storytelling, poetry or prose reading, singing, dancing, and more.

Farmington High School teacher Diana Mays-Nielson first learned about the Jellybean Festival in 2014 from another Missouri teacher named Sara Givens. But Mays-Nielson dismissed the idea because she didn’t have time. Then in 2016, then Farmington Principal Dr. Nathan Hostetler asked her to attend a meeting at Ste. Genevieve regarding the event. Although she went to the meeting and loved the idea of ​​the festival, she felt she couldn’t tackle another project because she was already preparing for her school’s first musical only two weeks away.

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Ste. Genevieve R-2 hosted the Jellybean Festival for two years before Farmington first hosted the event in 2019. The 2020 event was canceled due to COVID.

“After I experienced the first Jellybean Festival, my little Grinch heart grew three sizes,” said Mays-Nielson. “Even though I felt like I didn’t have time to be involved in this, I found time and then once I saw it and how happy it made all the kids, I just knew we had to bring it to Farmington.”

She said not only did this event benefit the students in special services, but high school students were able to walk over from the high school to the Centene Center to attend the event.

“It really helped bring about a culture of inclusiveness,” said Mays-Nielson.

The original festival was organized so students could compete, the local festival has been held as a talent show instead. This seemed less stressful for everyone involved. Also, the event included students in grades 6-12 but currently only students with intellectual difficulties in 9-12 are asked to participate.

Students from Farmington, Ste. Genevieve, Cape Central and North County participate in the Jellybean Festival.


Although all area schools were invited, only students from North County, Ste. Genevieve, Cape Central and Farmington responded.

For next year, Mays-Nielson hopes to expand the event to include elementary grades in a separate Jellybean Festival.

The kids, called jellybeans, and coaches, called Buddy Coaches, love this event.

“When you see these kids walk off the stage after a round of applause and sometimes a standing ovation, you can see their confidence swell,” said Mays-Nielson. “They walk off like rock stars or celebrities!”

The Jellybean Festival is usually held in early March.

She said as for the Buddy Coaches, she already has kids lined up to help at next year’s event. Next year’s location has not yet been determined. Although Farmington is ready to host the 2023 festival, Mays-Nielson said another district may want to host the event.

“Some of the schools may want to bring the excitement and enthusiasm to their own school as well,” said Mays-Nielson.

She said more sponsors could be used for the event. Although she would love to have more people attend, it was a “packed house for the entire day.”

“I would love to extend the festival to more year-round small events where the Buddy Coaches and Jellybeans go bowling or other activities,” said Mays-Nielson. “Ste. Genevieve does an excellent job with this!”

She acknowledged First State Community Bank. Although they donated money in 2020, that money wasn’t used because the festival was canceled. So they used that to help pay for the free T-shirts the kids receive. dr Dan Thompson also found funding to pay for food and goodie bags, and BKTV recorded and live-streamed the event.

Mays-Nielson also thanked student volunteers who helped backstage, ushered, announced and more.

Jellybean Festival 1.jpg

Cape Central students Faith Spears and Buddy Coach Queen Dickison work together with the song “Into the Unknown.”


“This was a team effort,” she said. “I did not, and could not, do this alone.”

Mays-Nielson credited Ryan Wadlow and Casey Burch, both MAP-A teachers, with being part of the team to make the festival a success. They divided tasks so everything could be completed before and during the event.

Wadlow said he, Burch and Mays-Nielson had to contact surrounding schools to assess who wanted to participate in this year’s festival. Then Mindy Southern and her staff of BKTV helped them send informational videos to the other districts.

Then the staff walked through the process of choosing a performance with their students and helping them practice. They also had to organize all of the skits, create a schedule of events, order shirts, pair up buddies with jellybeans, practice, and prepare food for lunch.

“We think it ran pretty smooth overall, although we ran into a couple bumps in the road,” said Wadlow. “Nothing will ever be perfect, but you have to take a step back and look at the overall picture and remember the purpose of the event.”

He said to give kids with disabilities the opportunity to be in the spotlight and show a chosen talent to their peers what they hoped to accomplish with the Jellybean Festival.

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Pictured are Makiah Wyatt and Ethan Chaisson from Farmington.


“When you have the purpose in mind, and make sure the kids have that opportunity, have fun, and create friendships with others, the other identified areas of improvement seem less important,” said Wadlow. “When these objectives have been met, that, to me, is a successful event.”

He expressed appreciation on their behalf to the students’ parents, other districts who participated, and the district’s administrators for not only allowing them to have this event but also for supporting the students.

“We work for a pretty great district that always supports our students and teachers,” Wadlow said.

In conclusion, Wadlow said if any audience member sees a jellybean who performed at the festival, they should have a conversation with the performer to tell them what a good job they did to showcase their talent.

“Give them a compliment, have a conversation with them,” he said. “Be their friend because you never know the impact of a kind word, thoughtful action or a friendship can have on one’s life.”

dr Jamie LaMonds, Farmington High School principal, was able to enjoy the entire festival this year. She’s always impressed with the amount of courage which the students show.

“It takes a lot of guts to get on a stage with a full auditorium and the students do it with gusto,” said LaMonds. “I’m not sure I would have enough courage to do something like that, and they certainly deserve to be celebrated for it.”

LaMonds said the Jellybean Festival is important to her and will always be a priority because it brings their FHS family together.

“It is very important to me as a leader that we are always good to each other and support each other in everything we do,” she said. “Sometimes that’s hard to accomplish in a high school.”

LaMonds said for anyone who attends this event, they get to see how everyone comes together to celebrate the talent on stage.

“It doesn’t matter what group you’re from, or what your track in life is, all that matters on that day is clapping as loud as you can and making sure that you can encourage the students on the stage to do their very best and make them feel like they have all the talent in the world,” she said.

When a jellybean gets nervous, the audience — consisting of staff and fellow students — encourage that person by cheering and clapping for them.

“The smiles you see from those talents are priceless,” said LaMonds. “They’re able to forget their stage fright and just perform and there’s no feeling like it in the world.”

The principal said she welcomes “anyone who wants to come be a part of that camaraderie.”

LaMonds received a text after the event from FHS math teacher Scott Keutzer: “I wanted to say FHS was well represented at the Centene Center today. I was over there for just third hour, however, FHS students behaved remarkably well! All throughout the day, I never ONCE heard a negative comment. In fact, many kids recorded several acts and proudly showed them off. One act squeezed a few tears from my eyes when all of us teachers looked up and the entire student body had their phone flashlights on swaying back and forth in full concert form! Proud to be a Knight!”

Jessica Barton, a Farmington special services paraprofessional, learned about the festival through their Special Education department. She works with students who performed at the festival. In fact, she and some high school students walked to the event together.

“I personally enjoyed watching our students from FHS cheer on each and every performer,” said Barton. “I shed a few tears at times because it was so heartwarming with the amount of support given.”

She said her favorite part of the festival was when everyone turned on their cell phone flashlights and swayed back and forth.

“I cannot wait to see the festival next year!” she said.

Dawn Fuemmeler had heard about the Jellybean Festival but never attended. She was fortunate to be subbing in the district on the day of the event.

“I was so impressed with the event, the organization of it, how well prepared the kids were, how brave they were to get up on the stage, and how encouraging the students at the high school were,” she said. “I didn’t see hardly anyone who didn’t participate and do what they were brought out on the stage to showcase.”

Fuemmeler said she especially loved the mentors who she felt “got as much or more out of it than the participants.”

She gave her students the option to attend the event, and they all wanted to go.

“They really liked attending,” she said. “One student said to me, ‘This was the best thing I have ever participated in [as an audience member].’”

Fuemmeler said at one point a girl was singing Ed Sheeran’s song “Perfect.”

“I thought to myself, it would be really neat if the kids lifted their phones and turned them on in solidarity right now,” said Fuemmeler. “And then it happened and it was so amazing! One or two lifted up their phones and then the whole Centene audience had their phones lifted up and was swaying back and forth to the music and cheering.”

She credited Mays-Nielson, along with Dr. Ashley Krause, for bringing the Jellybean Festival to the Farmington School District.

“I really think the whole purpose of this was to allow the kids with special needs to have their special moment and to change the minds of some of the people in the audience,” said Fuemmeler. “It was absolutely wonderful.”

Pam Clifton is a contributing writer for the Daily Journal


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