By Mindy Ragan Wood
High school students who might otherwise not get to experience prom enjoyed a rite of passage with friends at First United Methodist Church Saturday night.
The Bloom Where You’re Planted 2018 Prom was a chance for special needs students to experience a night of dinner, dancing, and glamour thanks to the work of teachers and school civic organizations.
The evening kicked off with a red carpet, rolled out for students to walk or wheel their way to the party. The first student to debut her appearance was MaKenna Black in her electric chair.
“It’s a great experience for her,” Lacey Black said of her daughter. “She looks forward to it every year.”
Parents were welcome to attend and dined on the opposite side of the room where students ate dinner before the dance started. Special education instructor Billie Bullock said it’s not often to see many parents at a typical prom unless they’re volunteering. At this prom, however, it’s important these parents take in every moment.
“Because they don’t get those other special moments, like your typical kids,” Bullock said.
“They get to have fun too and their parents want to see that.”
Most students with cognitive and sensory impairments could not enjoy a typical prom. Some students could be seen wearing sound muffling ear phones, another was free to play with a balloon on the dance floor, and others required more space between themselves and other students to enjoy the dance. Each one there had the freedom to express their joy and celebrate their prom within the scope of their ability.
Jennifer Everett was among the parents smiling at her teen from across the room.
“I think we are more excited in some ways than they are,” she said. “I think it’s important they get to have their parties too and no one’s judging.”
Charity Harkey agreed.
“This is a free place for them to be kids and that’s a big thing,” she said.
Anne Davis said she includes her son Evan in everything, from dinner to a restaurant to family reunions but it’s not always with acceptance from others.
“For those who lack some understanding, I kind of get it. These kids have some off-putting behaviors, but if you don’t get them away from home, how will they learn better behavior.
This (prom) is awesome. Our special needs children are often excluded from things and to have a place to come see their friends and have a party it’s just as important to them as it is for neurotypical kids,” she said.
The night was made possible by special education instructors and support staff and the Partner’s Club, a student led organization that provides support to special needs students, and Leaders of Tomorrow. Members of the Yukon high school wrestling team were also present.
Typically, functioning students provided an escort during the red carpet walk and danced with them on the dance floor.
“It’s fun,” wrestler Ashton Aldridge said. “It’s good to give back.”
The event demands advanced planning and a lot of hours of work, from deciding the theme to cutting out decorations and designing center pieces.
“We start in October, getting the venue, colors, theme,” Special Education instructor Renee Shoaf said. “We kick it into high gear in January. We were up here every day after school this week and until 7:30 last night.”
Shoaf said the teachers enjoy seeing their students have the opportunity to participate in a prom of their own. She started the prom six years ago with fellow staff.
“I love their energy,” she said watching the students on the dance floor. “They have a contagious energy. Every day they’re happy, all the time. We never really have a bad day.”
Kim Garner is the Special Olympics coordinator and a special education teacher at the high school.
“It feels great to do this for them,” she said. “They don’t have the supports they need to attend (regular) prom.”
The venue was decorated, and the lights were low for the disco ball as the music pounded out sounds from the top 40 hits. Parents and teachers even got on the floor and had fun with students.
The prom’s theme, “Bloom Where You’re Planted,” sums up the goal of the special education program at the high school to help each student be as independent as they can and reach their own level of success.