The Big Premiere

It’s not a just a field trip. It’s not just a movie. It’s an opportunity to explore and discover and, most importantly, debut to the community some newly learned vocational and life skills.

The big white van with the blue Crotched Mountain logo rolled into the parking lot, the big, hot late morning sun flashing arcs of light off the windshield. The doors slid open and a group of students and staff and teachers disembarked, primed to partake in that most hallowed of summer traditions: sitting in a chilled, air-conditioned theater to catch a movie with friends.

The theater? Chunky’s Cinema in Manchester, NH. The movie? Toy Story 4. The friends? Elliot, Karly, Talon, PJ, and Elizabeth. The day? A total blockbuster.

For Talon, a middle-school day student who had been working with his speech therapist on a special interview project, the trip was more than a movie; it was an opportunity to introduce some academic learning into the real world.

“He has been working on comparing traditional movie theaters to drive-ins and places like Chunky’s,” says Shelby Ouellette, a Speech Therapist at Crotched Mountain School. “They’re all very different of course. We worked on event diagrams, we did a snack taste test, we talked about the different jobs you can have at movie theaters and now we’re here visiting the movie theater.”

At this point Shelby pauses. The pizza has arrived.


In the theater, there’s a long table dedicated to the Crotched Mountain group. On either side, a mixture of staff and students sat in high-backed leather swivel chairs, pizza and lemonade in front of them. It was like a slice-of-life scene from a feast at a Viking hall.

As the Chunky’s staff circulated throughout, placing food, pouring drinks and scooping ice cream, the students took turns putting their learned communication skills into real-world practice. Karly used her speech device for everyday requests. Elizabeth used “please” when asking for things. And Talon had his list of questions ready to go.

As the Chunky’s staff circulated throughout, placing food, pouring drinks and scooping ice cream, the students took turns putting their learned communication skills into real-world practice.

Which was why this particular field trip was so cool. Talon was able to call upon the social, emotional, and vocational skills he worked so hard to hone at Crotched Mountain School and flex his interview chops.

For the past couple of months Talon and a school peer have been working closely with the speech department and their classroom teachers to produce their comprehensive movie theater research project, capped off with a “backstage tour” and interview with the manager of the Manchester Chunky’s location.

“We came up with a list of questions together, which was great,” Shelby says. “We’ve been working on staying on topic and asking appropriate questions while we’re in the community, instead of personal questions and things that aren’t relevant to where we are.”

Once he wrapped up his pizza and lemonade (and, crucially, before the ice cream showed up), Talon and Shelby met up with Kayla, the manager. She took the small group around the theater, showed them where the controls were for the movies (it’s all digital and through a computer now!), visited the kitchen (that’s where the pizza’s made!) and hit the ticket window to wrap it up (birthday parties! group sales! advertising on the big screen!).

Throughout, Talon peppered Kayla with questions:

“What do you like most about movies?”
“Why did you get this job at the movie theater?”
“How do you show the movies?”

Shelby was impressed: “The tour helped Talon be able to ask the questions he came up with in an appropriate manner and, obviously on topic.”

But enough schoolwork for now. The tour was done, the questions had been asked, the cinematic intel had been gleaned and it was time to get down to the true business of the day–settling in with a bowl of ice cream and watching a great movie in a great theater on a sleepy summer afternoon with friends on all sides.

The lights dim. Showtime.

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