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Prom special for these teenagers

Mon., May 17, 2004

Jamie Stone loves high school dances. She shows up early. She stays as long as she can. She never sits down and, usually, she dances alone.

But not last Friday night at the prom organized by Central Valley School District’s special education services. Nineteen, charming and blessed with the gift of gab, Stone twisted and sambaed with everybody.

She wore a new dress. She wore her slick-bottomed shoes. She went with the most talked about boy of the dance. It was cool.

“I just love it,” Stone said. “I love to dance. I love music.”

The dance is the only one of its kind in the Spokane area, said Morgan Jones, a special education teacher and organizer for the dance held at Central Valley High School. It draws students from other districts, like Stone, an 11th-grader at East Valley High School who was invited to the prom by University High School student Billy Berg.

Berg, 16, stole the show by arriving in a Panama hat, tropical shirt and a date on each arm, Stone and Emma Beauvais, of Fairfield.

“I’m just lucky,” Berg said.

Not everyone is keen on an event tailored for students with special needs because schools have struggled to work special education students into the mainstream since Congress mandated inclusion almost 30 years ago. The transition hasn’t been swift, or easy.

“We get mixed emotions about this,” Jones said. “Why separate? Some of our special education kids do go to senior prom, but it’s a reality that some may be uncomfortable going into that social arena, which can be too crowded, too intense.”

Mainstreaming has merit, said Gil Stone, Jamie’s father, but it is also emotionally stressful on the children with special needs. It’s good to have a place where kids aren’t relegated to the sidelines.

Last Friday’s dance was a low-key affair with an island party theme and 1950s rock ‘n’ roll performed by Elvis aficionado Joel Brantley. There were four inflatable guitars available for anyone who wanted to air-strum to the music. There were lessons in pelvis shaking and sneering. There were metallic, large-framed sunglasses for anyone interested in playing “the King” of rock and roll for just one song.

“Joel Brantley is hot. I like his music,” said Kimberly Kelly, 19.

The University High School student knows the lyrics to many of the songs Brantley sings. When the singer invites Kelly on stage for a hand-jive version of “Stand by Me,” she knows the moves and eventually gets a shot at the microphone. Before the night is over, Kelly is already talking about next year’s dance.

The crowd on the dance floor seldom drops below 65. The perimeter of the room is packed with parents, teachers and siblings.

There’s also a sizable contingent of students from the Central Valley High School student leadership class, the cream of the crop, Jones said. Leadership students, charged with organizing most the events at the high school, helped decorate the commons area for the dance.

The event is so informal and so many of the kids will attend three or four times before moving on, that Jones has a hard time calling it a prom. It’s more of a spring dance, he said.

Jamie Stone, however, would disagree because it’s more than loud music and low lights when the dance honors a certain group of students. It’s more when the center of the floor is all hers and the dance moves she has practiced so many times on her bedroom floor are celebrated by everyone.

“It’s special,” Stone said, “because this is a prom and Billy asked me out.”


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