The Kids of Widney High

By Laura Glick

"When you listen to the radio, it’s the same thing. When you listen to our music, it’s something different."

Singer Shantel Brown has hit the nail on the head. One of the members of the Kids of Widney High, Brown and fellow Los Angeles classmates are the purveyors of infectious pop music. The group of special needs high school students are directed by teacher and band musician Michael Monagan.

"One of the wonderful things about working at Widney is that in high school, in the way that we were, where you’re trying to pretend that you’re different, but what you’re really doing is trying to be exactly like everybody else. These guys, because right from the beginning, they’ve been so different and they’ve been laughed at sometimes or ridiculed and just put aside. They don’t, for the most part, really [care]," he shares.

Having taught at Widney for 13 years, Monagan has overseen the first Kids album and most recently, Let’s Get Busy.

A 10 track buffet of infectious and energetic pop songs, Let’s Get Busy tackles subject matter ranging from wishful thinking about girlfriends to thoughts on medical treatment and care.

Songs like "Every Girl’s my Girlfriend" with sweetly stellar vocals by Dantell Weston and the light-hearted "Cowboy Brown" capture listeners attention with catchy melodies and sincere deliveries.

More somber tracks like "Doctor Doctor" and "Help Me to find My Way Home" tackle sensitive topics with eloquence and feeling.

"Our music is from the heart," says Moises Molina.

Participating in the band has drawn the students together and strengthened their bond.

"Having the group has made the kids so cohesive," says Monagan.

Of the nine students who appeared on the album, eight still perform at shows in southern la. They have venues like the Viper Room and the House of Blues under their belts, as well having obtained the coveted position of opening act for Mr. Bungle on early shows of the California tour.

The partnership with Mike Patton continued as his record label, Ipecac, signed the Kids to release Let’s Get Busy. They’ve also had tracks appear on a local radio station Christmas compilation.

"There are only three of the kids who were on the album who are in the class right now. When we go to do gigs those graduates will come and perform," explains Monagan. "When we’re doing a big show, I’ll try to have the eight kids who were on the record cause they know the songs. There have been some kids I’ve been trying to bring in. Trying to memorize a song is a lot harder than it is for you or me, it takes the kids a long time to get into the swing of things, particularly for a live show."

Unique challenges such as these pose particular obstacles when trying to coordinate schedules, meet deadlines and play live shows.

"The cognitive level [of the kids] is all over the place," he says. "[Also] in the past, we’ve never had a band for this long."

Currently, the Kids have Monagan on guitar and a group of musicians backing up their vocals. The Kids practice the old and new songs in their songwriting class, with current efforts focused on a song called "Money Change."

"I had done performances all along, there have been bands that have come and gone," says Monagan.

The class provides a chance for the kids to be creative and they all agree working together and doing lots of singing is the best part.

"After we get finished singing, we’re hot," shares Shantel.

Joined by Carol Cholico, Sharde Brown, Kirk Ferra, Sara St. Pierre, Della Dixon, Moises, Dantell, Veronica Tamayo, and Matty Carvajal, Shantel and the class are busy practicing and writing songs.

"Kids can stay at school till they’re 22," says Monagan.

Presently, the Kids are tossing around new material and working with producer Rana Joy Glickman (Full Tilt Boogie) on a documentary.

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