People often leave a magic show wondering how the tricks were done, but students in Texas A&M’s Aggie ACHIEVE program left a presentation by illusionist Kevin Spencer ready to perform.
In one hour Monday, most of the students in the Aggie ACHIEVE program learned two magic tricks and performed them for everyone in the room.
Initially, some of the students didn’t think they could do it, but by the end of the hour had mastered the performance.
Spencer said although he would love for each of the students to leave with an interest in magic, the biggest thing he hopes they gain from the experience is knowing they are capable of doing more than they originally thought.
“Nobody expects them to do a magic trick, and then when they do — when they can — then it gives them this confidence to tackle other things,” he said.
Monday’s presentation, which was one of several in Bryan and College Station this week, was organized by Texas A&M’s MSC OPAS. Other groups included in Spencer’s visit to Aggieland are students studying to become teachers and therapists, other A&M and public school students and Alzheimer’s patients.
Each of the tricks Spencer teaches can be modified to allow everyone to succeed. Part of that is helping the students think critically and find solutions to problems they encounter.
Those critical thinking skills can help in real-world situations, such as missing a bus or not finding the ingredients they typically use to make a sandwich. Instead of panicking, they can come up with a solution.
The Aggie ACHIEVE students are in their first semester at Texas A&M, and founding faculty director Carly Gilson said, college is all about learning new things and having the confidence to take on new challenges.
“They’re in that point in the semester where things are getting really hard and there’s a lot of reading, a lot of work, a lot of assignments and stuff,” she said. “Now we can remind them of this, when things are hard, sometimes you just have to take a few extra steps to learn it, and you can not only amaze yourself, but amaze others too. I think it’s an awesome skill they can apply.”
The program, which stands for Aggie Academic Courses in Higher Inclusive Education and Vocational Experiences (ACHIEVE), is a four-year residential post-secondary program for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Spencer moved from being a touring illusionist to focusing on education and magic therapy after a 1988 car wreck left him with brain and spinal cord injuries.
His therapists saw how he was using fine and gross motor skills to relearn his magic tricks, and that is what he uses now to connect with others, no matter their situation.
“Such an important part of our healing process is redeveloping our self-concept, and when you’ve been on the other side of a debilitating illness or a stroke or an accident, any of those things, your self-concept is what suffers the most. You’re not the person that you used to be,” he said.
Spencer advocates for people to focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. Everyone he works with has their own hopes and dreams, he said, no matter their abilities or situation.
“They may be on a different scale or on a different level, but they have hopes and dreams just like we do. Too often, their success depends on our perceptions about who they are and what they’re capable of,” he said. “We are the ones that hold them back; they don’t hold themselves back. As a society, it’s time for us to get out of the way, give them opportunities to show us who they are; give them a voice. The arts are a really powerful way to do that.”
Spencer said there is no word to describe the feeling someone in his audience gets a trick, performs it for others and continues to practice.
“It is the reason I do this,” he said. “Knowing that in such a short amount of time you can make such an impact on the life of an individual and knowing that they’re going to be able to transfer those skills over into other areas is really humbling.”