Student Leadership Summits are going virtual! Check back for updates. We’ll also communicate specific event information in our monthly schools email.
Guest Speaker: Zack Gottsagen, “Peanut Butter Falcon”
Friday, February 5 | 12:45-1:30 p.m.
We are excited to welcome Zack Gottsagen as a guest speaker for the February Student Leadership Summit! Zack is best known for his leading role in the movie “Peanut Butter Falcon.”
Zack was the first child with Down syndrome to be fully included in the Palm Beach County school district. After the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, Zack filed one of the first ADA lawsuits, which successfully challenged Little League to include children with disabilities, resulting in all coaches being required to receive training in inclusion.
Zack is an actor and a dancer. He performed with Southern Dance Theatre for fifteen years and assisted teaching there. Zack also assisted teaching theatre to children at Standing Ovation Performing Arts. He worked in an inclusive childcare center as well. Zack lives independently in an apartment in Boynton Beach, Florida, and worked at the Alco Theatre for several years. He deeply loves his friends, family and rescue dogs.
He loves swimming, working out, basketball, kayaking, windsurfing, bowling and watching wrestling. Zack is a leader in SAIL (Self Advocates for Independent Living) through the Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization and is actively involved with Arts for All. He votes in every election and has advocated for the rights of people with disabilities in local, state, and national arenas.
Zack performed a monologue from Hamlet while standing on top of a tall ladder at the Blackbox Theatre at Dreyfoos in 2003. He auditioned for and was chosen to star in the live theatre production of “Artie” at the Royal Palm Playhouse in 2005. He became involved with Zeno Mountain Farms nonprofit film productions from 2008 until the present. He performed in multiple independent movies with Zeno, including “Burning Like A Fire” and “Life of a Dollar Bill.”
Zack often played the villain role, with his most outstanding performance in “Bulletproof” in 2012. During the filming of “Bulletproof,” a documentary—“Becoming Bulletproof” (2014)—went behind the scenes to follow Zack and other actors with different disabilities through their daily lives. “Becoming Bulletproof” was featured on Showtime for several months, received numerous film festival awards, and has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In July 2015, the Smithsonian Museum invited Zack to be the keynote speaker for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and showed the movie “Becoming Bulletproof.”
While filming with Zeno Mountain Farms in Los Angeles, Zack met Tyler Nielson and Michael Schwartz, who were volunteering with the production. Tyler and Mike were so taken with Zack’s personality and talent that they wrote the script for “The Peanut Butter Falcon” and incorporated Zack’s mannerisms, ways of expressing himself, innocence, enthusiasm and joy for life into the lead character role.
In 2017, Zack began filming his first feature length movie, “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” where he has the leading role alongside co-stars Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson and Bruce Dern. Zack thrived on the opportunity to perform. He insisted on doing all his own stunts (much to the chagrin of his stunt double). Each morning of filming Zack welcomed the cast and crew with his inspirational speeches via megaphone and called out each person who excelled the day before. His genuine warmth and affection built the camaraderie and love that flowed throughout the production of the film.
Zack’s talent, passion, motivation and perseverance have been the impetus for Zack to build his expanding performing arts career. Zack has won many awards, including the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocate Award from Global Down Syndrome Foundation; Outstanding Breakout Performance from Crested Butte Film Festival; the Rising Star Award from Palm Springs International Film Festival; Newcomer Award from the Hollywood Critics Association; Distinguished Alumni Award from the Palm Beach County Education Foundation; the Ed Roberts Award from the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley; Honorary Champion of Inclusion from Best Buddies; and the Breakthrough Entertainer Award from the Associated Press. Zack presented the Media Access Award in 2019 to the producers of “The Peanut Butter Falcon.” He also presented an Oscar at the 2020 Academy Awards. In March 2020, Zack was invited to speak in Norway for World Down Syndrome Day.
In Zack’s words, “Talent… that’s all I’ve got.”
Guest Speakers: Shane & Hannah Burcaw
Friday, February 19 | 12:30-1:30 p.m.
Join us as we listen to guest speakers, Shane Burcaw + Hannah Burcaw (check out their YouTube channel)!
In 2011, a kid named Shane Burcaw from Bethlehem, PA, started a humorous blog to tell his life story of living with a disease that made his muscles waste away as he grew older.
The blog blew up, achieving HALF A MILLION followers (a number that still grows to this day). Shane realized how badly people needed humor in their lives, so he set out with his cousin Sarah to create a company that could help people laugh more and help others living with the same disease.
Since the founding of Laughing At My Nightmare, Shane has gone on to start a viral YouTube channel with his wife , Hannah (Aylward) Burcaw. The channel is called Squirmy and Grubs. Shane’s disability plays a huge role in their relationship, but not in the way that most people expect.
Watch & Discuss
Friday, March 5 | 12:30-1:30 p.m.
Join us this month as we watch an interesting and educational video about disabilities and inclusion and join the discussion afterwards! This is a great opportunity to learn new things, hear from students around the state and share your perspective!