Local special needs students have their day at Mint Hill event
by Morgan Smith
Providence High School’s Sarah Gregory lived and breathed the thoughts of prom for two straight weeks: shopping for a new dress, deciding on hairstyles and practicing her dance moves.
Sarah isn’t your typical high school student, nor was she preparing for a typical high school prom. The sophomore has Down syndrome, and spent the last two weeks preparing for a special-needs prom at Rocky River High School in Mint Hill.
The masquerade-themed prom gave nearly 120 special-needs students from Providence, Butler, Independence, Vance and Rocky River high schools the chance to experience prom in a new way. The girls still dressed in lavish dresses, and boys in fancy suits, but without the typical dangers of strobe lighting and late night hours. The dance took place right in the middle of the school day Friday, March 9, giving all the students the opportunity to go.
“This gives (the students) something to look forward to because a lot of the kids who aren’t as mobile, or not as verbal, or are not as able to attend other things, probably will never get to go to a real prom,” Mary Gregory, Sarah’s mom, said. “I think it’s great. They’re up there dancing away in their wheelchairs, so good for them.”
Sarah’s family moved to Charlotte just this school year. Events like the prom helped her adjust well to the move, her mom said.
Rocky River High School junior Kayla Castello and seniors Nicole TeJera and Megan Deizell worked together and planned the prom for a Family, Career and Community Leaders of America life-planning competition event.
“We thought maybe (some of the special needs students) are intimidated by regular prom, so we thought ‘Let’s throw them a prom so they can be together,’” Megan said.
“Everyone should experience a high school prom, so we just wanted them to be a part of it, too,” Nicole added.
The three planned the entire event, with the guidance of their FCCLA club advisor Carol Parrish. The girls had a small budget of less than $1,000, so gathering support from area businesses like Chick-fil-A and IKEA, for donations of food and decorations were essential to the cause.
“We tried to do fundraisers, but they just didn’t pull together soon enough, so we charged $7 admission for each student and that was our fund to work from,” Megan said. “It’s a budget prom, but it looks great.”
And Parrish couldn’t be more proud of the girls. She was overwhelmed when they exceeded her expectations of around 30 students attending.
“They’ve done this all in my classroom – they made their own invitations, their own tickets. They made the decorations. They’ve done everything,” Parrish said. “They orchestrated it and managed the whole process.” The girls even came up with the idea to invite other area students, Parrish added.
Parrish explained that the FCCLA club is one of the most active clubs on the school’s campus, with a dedication to community service and events.
“The thing that I’ve always tried to instill in my students is that community service is what it’s all about – you need to give back to the community,” she said.
And the event was such a success that students, parents and teachers alike think it’s something to continue in the future.
“It’s a great experience because they all get to come together and hang out with friends,” Stacy Vredeveld, a Rocky River special needs teacher, said. “It’s a great chance for them to do something that they don’t normally get to do. I would absolutely love to see this in the future. It’s wonderful to see our kids accepted and that’s something you don’t always see.”