Special prom celebrates students with disabilities
By ELIZABETH FRANTZ
Jun. 12, 2018
HUDSON, N.H. (AP) — With a Disney princess soundtrack playing in the background of her Bow home on Thursday, Emma Valas tried on an old dress. The formerly solid white ruffled garment had seen some modifications of a bright pink variety since the 15-year-old last wore it.
"It's totally different. It's not a first communion dress anymore. It's a ball gown," said her excited mother Kris Valas.
Emma, who has Down syndrome and a motor-speech disorder, has been to middle school dances before but will be attending the annual Buddy Ball at Alvirne High School on Saturday. The unified prom event, going on its fifth year, is put on by the school's W.A.T.S. Club, a student leadership group that stands for "We're All The Same."
"We're celebrating all the friendships and accomplishments that everyone has made through the unified program over the course of this school year. It's just a great time," said the club's adviser, Joanne Curry.
Participation varies, but this year students from Alvirne, Campbell, Nashua , Londonderry and Bow will attend. The inclusion of Bow comes from a relationship developed between Curry and Robin O'Dougherty, a special education behavior specialist at Bow Memorial School and a coach with the Concord Special Olympics team.
The Buddy Ball will have all the same features of a typical high school prom, including a grand march, formal picture opportunities, food, a dance floor with a DJ and a photo booth. They also throw in a raffle.
Like united sports programs, the event encourages interaction between people with intellectual disabilities or other challenges with non-challenged students.
"It's all about inclusion and looking to make inclusion the new normal. That everyone belongs, everyone has a place," Curry said.
For Emma, it's also an opportunity to dress up like a princess and be an independent teenager.
"She's a tiny little peanut. She has Barbies in her room. She still likes the Disney princesses, but she's still 15. She still has an attitude," said Kris Valas, who won't be going to the event with her daughter.
Instead, Emma will travel down to Hudson with other Bow Memorial School students, Special Olympics teammates and O'Dougherty, who has taken students from the Hopkinton school district in past years.
"It's to go to the dance together and have a good time together," O'Dougherty said.
The Buddy Ball and participation in Special Olympics has helped Emma Valas come out the shell she's built over the years as her school experiences have diverged from her those of her classmates.
"I think with all kids who have an intellectual disability, as the kids age, the gap widens so by 15 she's not really in classes with her peers anymore and she's not doing anything outside of school with them anymore," said Kris Valas, Emma's mom.
"When Robin told me about the dance, I was so excited. I think she's going to have a great time."
Until then, Emma just needs to decide between her white dress shoes or pink ballet slippers and whether she'll be the dancer her mom says she is.
"I'd be very surprised if she doesn't," O'Dougherty said.
Information from: Concord Monitor, http://www.concordmonitor.com