Photo by Jo McCulty
Certain bonds are pure magic
Students have a champion who shares their craft and supports their achievements.
A group of students with special needs doesn’t think of Joshua Jay ’05 as the famous magician who travels the world and performs on national television shows.
“When our students are with him, they have no idea he’s this huge star,” says Tiffany Hanna ’01 MA, an intervention specialist at Gahanna Lincoln. “To them, he’s just Josh — just this really nice guy.”
And not just a really nice guy who makes them laugh by seeming to pull quarters out of their ears. “He’s my friend,” says Rian Springer, 19.
The friendship between Jay and these students grew out of a program that Hanna and fellow intervention specialist Cheryl Kempf ’88 MA started at the school in 2016. The two teachers wanted to provide a larger experience than the usual day-to-day classes or a field trip. They turned to magic.
“The students were so excited to try to learn those things,” Hanna says. “Our students take great pride in being able to show that they can do really cool things. This is something they got a lot out of.”
The 17 students, who have a variety of cognitive and physical disabilities, spent months learning about magic’s history and how to do tricks while also improving public speaking skills through the tutelage of a speech language pathologist. At year’s end, they put on a show for their families. “Parents were just sobbing,” Hanna says.
A mutual friend, Dennis Kreur, sent a video of the school’s show to Jay. He was so moved, he immediately arranged for the students to perform at the 2017 Magifest. They have appeared at the Columbus convention every year since, always receiving standing ovations from the crowd of some 1,000 people.
“Giving these children the chance to feel that energy is so powerful,” Jay says.
Jay’s company also has provided free props and tricks for the Gahanna Lincoln magic program, which has proved so popular it has grown to include the work of a third intervention specialist, Jill Evans ’10, ’16 MA.
“Tiffany, Cheryl and Jill make the magic work, and that is its own kind of magic,” Jay says. “People like the three of them exist as a positive force in this world.”
Rian’s mom, Jodi Kisner Springer ’96, can attest to how that force of goodwill is multiplied through the relationship between Jay and Gahanna Lincoln’s magic program. She saw the benefits firsthand when her daughter and her classmates performed at the 2019 Magifest.
“I was nervous,” Springer says. “I had never seen any of them in that type of role before. I didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but it was perfect. Everything was just great. You never know how people are going to react, but everyone was so kind and embraced the kids. You could just see how much Josh loves them.
About the author
Todd Jones is a senior writer for Ohio State Alumni Magazine and host of One Degree Greater, a podcast about young alumni. He spent three decades as a newspaper reporter, including 20 years at The Columbus Dispatch. You can usually find him with his face in a book or taking long, old-man walks through nature.