Nearly two years after a serious motorcycle accident, Alexis Ross ’07, is finding new life in her successful business of teaching piano students, and in particular of teaching students with special needs.
Her journey to overcome her life-threatening injuries led her to a new appreciation for her students who have disabilities. In a recent newspaper account, her story of recovery and empowering her students inspired readers and even prompted the president of a major music publishing company to reach out to her and offer to donate supplies to her students.
“It just keeps getting better,” Alexis says.
During her years at Saint Viator, Alexis never could have predicted this kind of journey for herself.
She played trombone in the jazz and symphonic bands, while leading the tennis team as one of its top players. In her spare time, she studied multiple instruments privately, including piano, guitar and drums.
Ross would go on to pursue music—and tennis—at Elmhurst College, where she ultimately earned a degree in music education, while playing in several of its ensembles and on its tennis team.
While she could have taught music at a school, Ross says she chose to teach piano because of its many, overall benefits for students, including promoting growth in language, reasoning and spatial intelligence.
After college, Ross developed a studio in her Arlington Heights home and grew her business to include nearly 40 students, from age 6 to 63.
“I really love working students one on one,” Ross says.
Nearly two years ago, however, tragedy struck when Ross was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. She was rear-ended by a driver traveling at 50 miles per hour on the expressway that hadn’t seen Ross stop for a traffic backup.
The accident left Ross with a fractured right pelvis and left collarbone, as well as six fractured vertebrae, two torn eye muscles and massive bleeding in the brain, resulting in traumatic brain injury.
Her recovery has been slow, but steady. Music has helped, Ross says, describing how she played piano to strengthen her right hand, and how reading music helped her to overcome double vision caused by her eye injury.
“I’m still healing,” Ross says, “but it has been one very intense learning experience and journey.”
Part of that journey has been to come to a new appreciation for her students with special needs, she says.
“My patience was pretty good before the accident,” Ross says, “but now it’s at a new, higher level.”
She teaches nearly 20 students, who range in age from 5 to 47, at a studio housed in the Northwest Special Recreation Association building in Rolling Meadows. They range in ability, and many are on the autism spectrum, like 10-year old Aidan McCurley of Palatine.
His mother gathers up her three younger children, which includes a newborn, every week to take Aidan to his lesson.
“I never would have dreamed he could play the piano, let alone take lessons,” says his mother, Arron McCurley, who chairs the ESL program at Fremd High School. “But I play piano and his father plays guitar. I thought it would help with his fine motor skills, and his reading.”
Brian Selders, one of the administrators with Northwest Special Recreation Association, says Ross teaches the majority piano students in its cultural arts program and she has built up the numbers.
“There are a lot of benefits in experiencing music,” Selders said. “It helps with fine and gross motor skills—and it’s therapeutic. Our students really enjoy it.”