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Special-needs prom big hit with area schools

by Morgan Smith

Around 120 special-needs students from area high schools, including 19 students from Providence High, gathered at Rocky River High in Mint Hill Friday, March 9, for an afternoon prom designed specifically for them. Morgan Smith/SCW photo

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 prom gave nearly 120 special-needs students from five local high schools, 19 from Providence, 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 for some special-needs students and late night hours. The dance took place right in the middle of the school day Friday, March 9, giving all special-needs 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 junior Kayla Castello and seniors Nicole TeJera and Megan Deizell worked together on 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, gathering support from area businesses like Chick-fil-A and IKEA, who donated food and decorations to the cause.

“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.

Christabelle Mascarenhas, an exceptional children teacher at Providence, said her kids and their families loved the idea of the prom.

“Parents were just as excited as the students were,” she said.

Mascarenhas added the prom was a great way for the students to mingle and socialize with other special-needs students, allowing them to feel more comfortable and make new friends at the same time.

“Being a self-contained class, in the other part of the school the students try to involve (the special-needs students), but still, being with other peers (at the prom), they can just let their hair down.”

Mascarenhas said she would love for her students to participate in prom every year because not many of her students are able to go to regular prom. But because the event is during school, every student has a chance to go, which she said makes all the difference in the world.

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