Performing arts program at Pepin Academies helps students overcome obstacles

Students at Pepin Academies in Tampa are using their imagination to sharpen their improvisation skills.

"We spend a lot of time improvising, doing pantomime, engaging with our body, and some script work," said instructor Matthew Belopavlovich with the Patel Conservatory.

The conservatory provides performing arts training in partnership with Pepin Academies.

"He comes in once a week and he teaches different aspects of drama that we may not get to in our individual weekly classes," said Lauren Ortiz, an instructor.

For these students, this class can do more than just stretch their creativity.

"Pepin Academies is a nonprofit charter school for students with learning disabilities. We have autism, Asperger’s, things like cerebral palsy -- so physical-based disabilities as well as intellectual disabilities," Ortiz explained. "It's important because it's a creative outlet and for a lot of them, success isn't necessarily academically-based so it's more creative based and while they do get a grade for being here and everything like that for a lot of them it's their only chance to be successful."

From there, they have seen the students grow.

"I really have seen over my years here at the Pepin Academies of Tampa, a lot more speaking in front of their peers and being able to share ideas and express what they're feeling," said Belopavlovich.

Big names who have faced their own similar challenges are opening up about it. Business magnate Elon Musk, who has Asperger’s, recently hosted and performed on Saturday Night Live.

"It's representation for these kids," Ortiz said. "’Hey, that sounds like me. They can do it then I can do it too.’"

It's setting the stage for a limitless future.

"Hopefully, the students through this arts opportunity will be the next wave of writers and performers that are creating even more visibility," said Belopavlovich. "So, I think it's very important to see yourself and then that helps you be that person for others."

For more information about Pepin Academies, head over to the school’s website

For more information about the Patel Conservatory, click here