Special needs students groove at prom
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – When Kiana Stewart stepped on the dance floor in her purple floor-length ball gown, she knew the day could become one of the most memorable events of her high school days.
And after several hours of dancing at Hopewell High School’s inaugural Exceptional Children prom, a formal dance for the school’s special needs high school students May 31, the day surpassed her expectations – even though her feet felt a little sore.
“I will remember everything from today,” she said. “I won’t ever forget it.”
Hopewell special needs teacher Christi Chiappone and the rest of the school’s exceptional children department staff organized the prom.
It was held during the school day at the Huntersvillle American Legion Post 321 building, to help the 35 students experience the social occasion of many teenagers’ high school lives. Almost 20 businesses and individuals pitched in $1,500 for the venue, flowers, tuxedos, food and more.
The Lake Norman chapter of Becca’s Closet, an organization started by Hopewell High junior Justyce Szikszai, donated dresses to the girls. Szikszai started the Lake Norman chapter, which donates new and lightly used formal dresses to underprivileged girls as part of a Girl Scout project.
The event meets the exception children department’s community-based curriculum, which brings special needs students ages 14 to 22 years old into the community, whether by shopping for groceries or simply hanging out with their friends outside of school, Chiappone said.
The curriculum prepares students for the real world experiences they may face once they graduate.
“The prom is all they’ve talked about for the last two months since they found out about it,” Chiappone said. “Many have had a countdown going.”
Due to their disabilities, many of the department’s students are unable to attend the school’s regular prom, so teachers invited the students’ families to enjoy the occasion as well. Dressed in suits and dresses, moms, dads and siblings encouraged students to get on the dance floor and even busted a few moves themselves.
Curtese Shiflet said the prom gave her autistic grandson, Christian, the chance to have a normal high school experience.
“I think that even though they have their challenges, they are just like their peers in many ways,” Shiflet said of Christian and his peers. “They want to hang out with their friends, and something like this gives them that opportunity.”
Christian’s mother, Candie Shiflet, said the day provided her son, a ninth-grader, the chance to socialize outside of the classroom in a safe, positive environment.
“He is starting to see his peers go out to the movies and hang out, and I think think that it’s really important that he gets similar opportunities,” Candie Shiflet said.
And no prom would be complete without royalty, so teachers gave students the opportunity to crown their very own king and queen. Graduating seniors Stan Cocheo and Lashae Gantt took home the honors.
With the success of this year’s prom, Chiappone said she wants to make it an annual Hopewell High School event.
“The kids have been so excited,” Chiappone said. “Hopefully it will become a Hopewell tradition.”