Teens with special needs enjoy a prom just for themMay 17, 2021 11:54AM ● By Alison Brimley
“It was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of volunteer work,” said Kimmie Del Andrae of the first special needs prom she organized at Bingham High in 2019. After a hiatus in 2020, the prom will be back in 2021. (Photo courtesy Kimmie Del Andrae)
By Alison Brimley | [email protected]
On May 14, the second special needs prom for Jordan District students took place at West Jordan High. The first such event was held at Bingham High School in 2019. But it wasn’t organized by the district or the high school, or even a volunteer organization. It was an idea brought to life by Kimmie del Andrae, a Realtor and South Jordan resident.
Del Andrae is used to giving her time to volunteer efforts. She’s volunteered frequently at animal shelters, Sagewood Retirement Community, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Look Good Feel Better program, which benefits women undergoing cancer treatment.
“I fill my time,” she said. “I’m an empty nester.”
A few years ago, Del Andrae posted on Facebook a picture of her daughter, then a student at Bingham High, dressed and ready for her prom. One of Del Andrae’s real estate clients, a parent of an autistic child, commented on how pretty the photo was. That comment was Del Andrae’s inspiration.
“I thought, ‘Oh my god, [my client’s child] will never have a prom,” she said. She would likely never experience picking out a dress, wearing a corsage or taking photos with a date. “I asked my daughter if the special needs kid came to prom. She said, ‘Maybe one or two.’”
Del Andrae approached Bingham’s administration with the idea of hosting a special needs prom, but “they gave a lot of pushback.” She was told there was no need for a separate event because the special needs students were invited to the school’s general prom. “They’re invited, but just because they’re invited doesn’t mean they come,” Del Andrae said.
So she spoke to Bingham’s life skills teacher, Lexie Waite, about whether she thought a special needs prom was needed. (Life skills is a self-contained classroom within the school for individuals with special needs.) Waite thought it was a great idea. Four years earlier, in Waite’s first year of teaching, she and other life skills teachers in the district had talked about the idea of organizing a special needs prom, but it never came together.
“We serve a lot of students with disabilities who get overstimulated or have more aggressive behaviors,” Waite said. “Being at a whole-school prom isn’t always well suited for them. But they still need the chance to have a social outlet. ”
So Del Andrae began putting the event together on her own dime. “I just threw it together,” she said of the 2019 event. Waite publicized the event among her students, distributed invitations, and coordinated with the life skills teachers at the district’s other schools. The prom experience was complete with boutonnieres, corsages, and a DJ. Attendees even had the option to come early and get their hair and makeup done by Del Andrae’s daughter and her friends.
A lot of the parents stayed throughout the evening. “Many of them came up to me, thanking me. One dad was trying all night to give me a hundred dollars,” Del Andrae remembered, laughing.
Waite heard from several parents who were very appreciative. They never felt comfortable having their child go to the school’s prom. “It was amazing for them to see their child who’s normally aggressive or angry have such a fun night,” Del Andrae said. “And for parents to realize their child is able to participate in social activities and have social outlets. I didn’t want the night to end.”
Aside from the extra supervision, she said there was no difference between the experience of students at the special needs prom and the school’s general prom. “It’s just a group of their peers,” she said. “They feel more comfortable in their own skin.”
Though the event was canceled in 2020, it was able to proceed in 2021 with a few precautions in place. Attendees had to show either the results of a negative COVID test within the last 24 hours or a vaccination card.
Waite emphasized that the prom has additional benefits for students as well. For one, it allows them to see their classmates and friends from other schools they’ve attended, since “individuals with severe disabilities often get switched from school to school frequently when they are in elementary school and middle school.”
This year, in light of the Jordan District’s decision to discontinue the life skills classes at Herriman and Bingham high schools, Waite added that the prom would allow students in those classes to meet future classmates and “ease the transition.” (In early April, Jordan District announced that Herriman special needs students would be bussed to Mountain Ridge while Bingham’s could attend Riverton or West Jordan. On April 16, the decision was reversed.)