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A Special Prom

A Special Prom

For students with special needs, this prom is an extraordinary experience!

It’s prom season, and many young people are getting all dressed up and heading to their prom. It is an important rite of passage for many teens to attend their prom, but there is a segment of the population that seldom is included in the festivities surrounding the prom, special needs students. These students are unable to attend their high school proms because of their special conditions and circumstances. For some it is because their behaviors make them unwelcome at these social gatherings, others may be too medically fragile to attend, some just don’t feel comfortable in a room full of “typical” teenagers.

In the community I live in, there is a special prom for these students called Peter’s Prom (formerly known as The Prom Project.) It is put on by a not for profit organization that seeks to give special needs high school students the prom experience they would otherwise miss out on. It was conceived and brought to fruition by one of my co-workers (who has a daughter with Down’s syndrome) and the parent of another young lady who also has Down’s syndrome. They called it “The Prom Project.”

It began with three hundred dollars and a dream. With her co-founder my friend was able to organize and put on the event that cost next to nothing for the participants to attend. About 50 students from nearby schools attended that first year and they had the time of their lives! With the help of her family and friends, she was able to make it a memorable night for those young people. 

It was a smash hit the first year! I sat on the side lines and watched, amazed, as my friend organized the event. She took care of all the little details that make it difficult for special needs students to not be allowed to attend these functions. From inviting the parents to making sure that the student’s teachers and skills trainers provided action plans, should the worst case scenario come to pass, and the students need special interventions.

There was a young man named Peter, whose parents were hesitant about allowing him to participate because he had some behavioral issues, and they were worried it might make it uncomfortable for the other students if he attended. My friend reminded the parents that this was precisely the kind of thing that had been planned for when she planned the prom. That there would be chaperones who were familiar with the students and their behaviors and would know how best to handle any situation that might arise. This young man’s parents finally made the decision to allow him to attend and he had the time of his life, he didn’t have any behavioral issues that night, and went home feeling happy and like he was a part of something special and wonderful and completely normal for “typical” high school students. 

Sadly, about a week later, Peter suffered a very bad seizure and passed away. It was devastating loss to his family and friends. Had his parents not allowed him to attend, it would have been one less wonderful memory they would have had from his all too brief life. We were all humbled by the knowledge that his parents would remember the prom as one of the last great joys of Peter’s life.

After Peter’s passing, the decision was made to change the name of the event. With the blessings of his parents, they changed the name from "The Prom Project" to "Peter's Prom" because Peter and students like him were the focus of this endeavor. “We aim to make it easier for students like Peter, who find it difficult to attend social gatherings by surrounding them with their families and peers.” Allowing them to have the “typical” prom experience in an extraordinary way!

I was fortunate to be allowed to help with chaperoning last year and I must say that I was completely blown away! These kids were able to participate in a wonderful event that most of us take for granted. The glee on their faces as they danced and socialized with each other, getting together with friends from different schools, making new friends, and just being themselves. Miss Hawaii even stopped by to crown the prom king and queen, she stayed for the rest of the evening and it looked like she had as much fun as the kids!

This year, Peter’s Prom is looking forward to expanding to include more high schools and more special needs students. Perhaps they will eventually expand to the outer islands. As I reflect on this event, I think to myself, not bad for a couple of ladies with a dream and three hundred bucks…

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