A Carefree Prom for Some Special Students

Self-consciousness and nervousness can run rampant when a teenager attends a prom. Those uncommonly dressy clothes. The fear of drawing unwanted attention. The pressure to make this a magical night — for you or someone else.
But there was an utter absence of angst last week as San Marino High School hosted a prom for special education students from about a dozen schools in the west San Gabriel Valley.
“I loved this prom better than my own,” said Maria Velasco, an SMHS peer mentor who volunteered at the event, held in the Little Gym. “There was no drama. Everyone was actually having fun.
“The kids were just very welcoming. I had a couple of kids who didn’t know me — they were from other schools. And they just came up and started hugging me. And I’m like, ‘Hey, OK!’”
The Special Education Local Plan Area Prom, coordinated locally by SMUSD program specialist Jenifer Lozano, welcomed 70 or so area kids to the high school, where they were greeted by SMHS peer mentors and ASB students.
The theme was Candy Land, and everyone was decked out in their best, many with corsages and boutonnieres. A DJ cranked up the music, and kids headed for the dance floor as soon as they made it through the door. There was also food, as well as a popular photo booth, where kids playfully donned hats and feather boas.
Counselor Laura Ives praised the volunteers who helped give the special education students a mainstream high school experience in every sense. It’s a tradition at SMHS, for example, for elaborate prom invitations to be delivered to a student on campus, complete with banners and balloons. The peer mentors and ASB students did exactly that for this event, surprising one boy in his classroom with such an invitation, to his great delight. “I’m really proud of the volunteers,” Ives said.
At the prom, Velasco found herself tugged this way and that — to the photo booth, to the dance floor, often by complete strangers with beaming smiles.
Reflecting on the event later, she said, “It gives them a couple of hours for them to be not the center of attention in a way that they have to have a special helper in class, saying, ‘You’re doing that wrong,’ or, ‘Focus,’ but more like a good spotlight: ‘You’re here to have fun. You’re expected to laugh, to scream, to jump, to be.’ That’s why I think they really loved it.”
Ives was surprised to see SMHS special ed kids who are normally reserved cutting loose, including a blind student who danced with abandon alongside his adult aide.
“At one point,” she said, “a big circle formed on the dance floor. What I love is, anybody can be spotlighted at this. No one has that embarrassment or awkwardness, that tension.
“None of that existed at this prom.”

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