When most people think of prom they think of a dimly lit room with hundreds of teenagers dancing close together to loud music and secretly judging each other’s outfit choice — but that couldn’t be further from the truth at the annual Best Buddies Prom at Mountain Pointe High School.

The Best Buddies prom, hosted by the Best Buddies Club, gives students with special needs a chance to enjoy a night of dressing up, music and dancing, without the overwhelming atmosphere they might experience at a traditional prom. Dinner is provided, there is a live band in lieu of a DJ, the lights are kept on and a variety of activities are planned in addition to dancing. This year the event was on Saturday, April 11.

“These students come out and they get dressed up, and they are social, and just everybody has the biggest smiles,” said Jamaica Drowne, special education teacher at Mountain Pointe and a sponsor of Best Buddies. “There’s no judgment. It’s just about having a good time and being with friends. As a teacher I sometimes have to challenge the kids to get them to do a variety of therapies or academic things and that may not always be fun, but in this setting they truly have a great time with no boundaries. They’re just having a great time being a teenager.”

Olivia Johnson, president of Best Buddies, said her favorite part of the annual event is the preparation. The club opens up the planning to the entire student body to help with decorations as they transform the small gym into a place that will blow the special needs students away.

“When we get there everyone is so excited,” she said. “They get all dressed up and everyone dances. I think just seeing all those kids outside the school environment and just having fun and letting loose is my favorite part — to see the smiles on their faces.”

That’s what Best Buddies is all about, is providing friendships and uplifting experiences to students with disabilities. The club pairs students with a “buddy” from the special education program. They meet with them daily to get to know them as a friend and not just an acquaintance.

“My favorite thing about Best Buddies is the friendship you make,” Johnson said. “In a normal school setting you wouldn’t normally get to interact with the Life Skills students in the way that we do. You may see them in the hallway or in a class, but I go in and see them every morning. I hang out with them. The conversations that I have with them throughout the day are the conversations I look forward to.”

The prom is the biggest event Best Buddies throws each year. It’s open to anyone from the school as well as parents and siblings of Best Buddies students. It’s not only a chance to celebrate the students who are already involved, but to also invite anyone to learn about the club.

“I think there are some very important lessons about how to be a good friend and truly see someone for who they are and be respected as well as give respect,” Drowne said. “There are a lot of important skills for beginning a relationship and maintaining a relationship. Those are definite benefits anyone needs. It’s a great opportunity and I think most students walk away from the program having a life-changing experience.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

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