Students twirled, strutted, dined, and danced together “Under the Sea” at the 12th annual Insights Celebration, a special prom designed for Eden Prairie High School (EPHS) students with special needs and their friends in general education who are their “dates” and “buddies” for the evening.
The event was held on April 29 in the school’s main gym, which was decorated for the “Under the Sea” theme with aquatic colored balloons, bubbles, and fish.
“This prom is designed for our EPHS students with special needs and their peers in general education who have built friendships through EPHS inclusion experiences such as Music Insights, Peer Insights, Y’s Act, and Friends Forever,” said Jill Boyd, EPHS’ choir director.
“This gives many a chance to attend a fancy party in a familiar, small and well-controlled environment,” Boyd said.
She noted that many of these same students do not attend prom or other school dances, not because they aren’t welcome, but because the environment can be overwhelming.
One of the evening’s highlights was the Grand March. “Each buddy pair or group could choose a song that plays while they strut across the red carpet and stop midway for a dance, handshake or a pose,” Boyd said. “The Grand March was followed by a seated dinner catered from Buca di Beppo and then a rockin’ dance under the disco ball.”
Students Lauren McCartan and Kate Derosier, who helped organize the event, said the Grand March was their favorite part of the night.
“I love listening to the walk-up songs and seeing all of the different personalities,” McCartan said. “It’s heartwarming to see the smiles on everyone’s faces when it’s their turn to walk. I know the parents love it, too. Of course, the dance is super fun as well.”
Paige Holt, who also helped plan Insights, said her favorite part was seeing the students’ reaction to the event. “It’s so exciting to see all our planning pay off. It’s so much fun when they are reacting to all the little details you added for them.”
Holt said she feels this event is important “because it gives students with intellectual disabilities an equal opportunity to go to a high school dance catered to their every need.”
History of the event
Insights Prom got its start in the spring of 2011, when three EPHS seniors approached Boyd about having a semiformal dinner and dance for their friends with special needs along with the typical students who had formed bonds with them.
“Since then, kids have knocked on my office door almost immediately after the dance asking to be on the planning committee for the next year,” she said.
This year, 12 EPHS students met weekly since the end of February to organize this event for 51 students. About half of of the attendees had special needs, and the other half were students in general education who are devoted to helping their peers experience an important high school memory, Boyd said.
Alumni from the last three graduating years were also invited to the dance portion of the night.
Derosier said, “This night means a lot to all the general ed students as well because it’s so fun to spend time with all the friends we have made through clubs like Friends Forever and classes like Music Insights. We don’t normally get a lot of opportunities like this outside of school to bring together special ed and general ed.”
McCartan said the event is unique for EPHS. “It’s hard to explain how amazing Insights Prom really is. Not enough people realize the light that students with special needs bring to our school, and they deserve a night to celebrate.”
A ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience
McCartan, Holt, and Derosier all said they would encourage EPHS students to get involved next year, by helping with planning, attending, or both. They said the committee can always use help, and everyone is welcome.
Holt said the event has been a highlight of her high school experience: “Nothing makes me more happy than when I get to see the smile of these kids’ faces when they are at this event.”
McCartan agreed. “Insights Prom is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I guarantee anyone who attends will have a blast,” she said, adding that the event not only is a great chance to meet new people and be more involved at school, but most importantly, to provide students with disabilities a night to celebrate and have fun.
“We all want to be loved, appreciated, accepted, [and]to have fun, and Insights Prom truly checks all the boxes. Being a part of this event and the special needs community in general has changed my life for the better, and I would not be where I am today without it,” she said.
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