Centerville’s special prom

Centerville’s special prom, July 2010


Centerville High School student Sam Rubens dances with Centerville High School Special Ed. Aide Sue Kelzer at the special prom
Vicki Bernie

By Vicki Bernie, The Dayton Jewish ObserverOn May 21, the Centerville High School gym was transformed into “Paradise Island.” Amid flowers, vines, palm trees and even a lifeguard chair, students danced under decorations of stars.

This was the special prom, held for students with special challenges. The guests were students who volunteer as peer tutors in adaptive physical education classes, and those who are members of the Circle of Friends, an afterschool organization in which special-needs and typical students work together with faculty on projects and field trips.

After checking in at the tiki hut, all of the students Chicken-Danced, limboed, and did the Macarena, Locomotion and just plain boogied. They practiced for weeks before the prom in gym class, dancing to a CD made by their teacher.

“My date was really pretty,” says Sam Rubens, 19, about Kara Marcum, one of his peer tutors.

“I wore a suit and I danced a lot,” he adds. As Sam’s aunt, I can attest to the fact that he looked awfully nice too, judging by the pre-prom pictures my sister texted to me because I was out of town for the big event.

Sam, whose family belongs to Temple Beth Or, helped to make many of the decorations along with his buddy Adam DiSalvo, 18, a Temple Israel member, who says his favorite part of the prom was the food. Sam and Adam have also participated in Chabad’s Friendship Circle program. Both now enter their senior year at Centerville.

The special prom was the brainchild of Karen Chatman, who has been teaching at Centerville for three years as a community-based learning teacher. She moved here from Mahoning County in northeast Ohio, where a prom for special education kids was in place.

“My students never went to any of the events for over 1,000 kids,” Karen says. “Last year was the first year for the special prom. I organized it and once I got permission, a whole lot of people jumped in to help.”

Karen, who is also in charge of Circle of Friends, says she began writing letters to various businesses in March and sent a save-the-date card to students.

Donations began pouring in: food, drinks, gift cards, flowers, linens and money to purchase framed photos of the students who had their pictures taken with a Ford Model A car.

Two students from Centerville’s broadcast management class volunteered as DJs for the night.

Adam DiSalvo under the limbo stick at the special prom

Contributions also went toward making copies of a DVD of the prom that was a gift to each of the special needs students.
Sam has already dragged me into his room to watch the DVD — at least three times!

“I have been writing thank you notes for a week,” Karen says. “It was amazing to see our kids have a night dedicated to them. So many typical kids came that our students had lots of people to dance with. They danced so much that there was much food left over; they didn’t want to stop to eat. Some of the typical students said it was much more fun than the regular prom.”

Sam and Adam were both proud of the work that they did in Circle of Friends to make the prom so extraordinary.

Stacey Soifer, Sam’s mom, says, “the teachers, staff and peers who continue to volunteer their time and work tirelessly are truly the heart and soul of the Circle of Friends.

“I went in to pick Adam up,” says his mom, Debbie DiSalvo. “I was amazed at how wonderful everything looked and how much fun the kids were having, and not just the kids with special needs. Everyone had smiles on their faces. It brought tears to my eyes. Kids with special needs are just like the kids without special needs, wanting to participate in the same things all teens do. What a wonderful opportunity Circle of Friends offers to both types of kids.”

“The prom was special because I got to see Kara look so pretty and I like to see my friends and favorite grown-ups all dressed up,” says Sam.

Adam thought the prom was special because of the dancing. “My favorite person to dance with was Sam.”

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