When three Eden Prairie High School (EPHS) seniors approached music teacher Jill Boyd in 2011 with an idea to have a dinner and dance for their friends with special needs, they couldn’t have known that the event would still be going strong more than a decade later.
As it turns out, their idea gave birth to a tradition that students can’t wait to be a part of each year. The 11th annual Insights Celebration was held Saturday, April 23, at EPHS.
“Since (the first event), kids have knocked on my office door almost immediately after the dance asking to be on the planning committee for the next year,” Boyd said.
The 52 students participating Saturday entered the EPHS main gym, usually used for physical education classes and basketball games, to find fancy plate settings on linen-covered tables, a red carpet, and dozens of astral decorations hanging from the rafters to bring to life this year’s “Galaxy Disco” theme.
About half of those dressed in semi-formal attire were general education students who have formed special bonds with their new friends while attending inclusion classes such as Music Insights, Peer Insights, Y’s Act, and Friends Forever.
“(The general ed students) are devoted to helping their peers experience an important high school memory,” Boyd said. “We also invite alumni from the last three graduating years to the dance portion of the night.”
Prom and school dances are open to special needs students, Boyd said, but the environment can be overwhelming for some of them. “This gives many of them a chance to attend a fancy party in a familiar, small, and well-controlled environment,” she said.
The evening’s events include a Grand March, where each buddy pair or group chooses a song that plays while they strut across the red carpet and stop midway for a dance, handshake or a pose. The Grand March is followed by a catered dinner and then a rockin’ dance under the disco ball.
Boyd said the event would not be possible without the nine dedicated students on the planning committee this year: Natalie Bradsher, Kate Derosier, Ellie Gilbert, Paige Holt, Ella Madland, Lauren McCartan, Alexa Peterson, Sophia Wagner, and Henry Whittemore.
She also acknowledged donations provided by Cub Foods, Bachman’s and Biaggi’s – the former Eden Prairie restaurant that catered the first celebration and continues to do so, offering discounted prices.
“It’s not just the time our planning committee members took out of their already-busy schedules and lives that was impressive,” Boyd said. “It’s about the attitudes of service and love for their friends who are differently-abled, and about their passion for providing their friends an opportunity to attend an event that meets their needs and allows them to celebrate a high school memory with their peers.”
Boyd also praised the students’ families.
“These amazing young people come from really, really supportive and generous families,” she said. Family members donated desserts, snacks, beverages, paper supplies, and over $700 to the event. More than 20 parents and other family members helped set up, serve, or clean up after the event.
Boyd saved special recognition for DJs Ryan and Alexa Moriearty. Ryan, a 2011 EPHS graduate, hasn’t missed a single dance since he worked at the event as a senior.
Ryan, a pilot, and Alexa, a teacher, travel for one April weekend a year to Eden Prairie from their current home in Grand Forks, N.D., to work at the Insights Celebration. They combine the trip with a visit to Ryan’s parents, who still live in Eden Prairie.
The event requires months of planning and Boyd is typically all dressed up on celebration night. Unfortunately, that was not the case this year.
“My family and I came down with COVID the day before the dance!” she said. With that, she gave a special shout out to fellow teacher Kjersten Welter, Kyle Barth (facilities), Angie Kniss (Food Services), senior Ellie Gilbert and her parents Jim and Julie Gilbert, and senior Alexa Peterson, all of whom took on extra responsibilities for Boyd that night.