Liz McCue, Flatwater Free Press
For his final prom before graduation, Seth Kadlec pulled out all the stops. His tuxedo coat has tails. Her waistcoat and bow tie shimmer in deep burgundy satin. He’s a candidate for prom king, after all. Much like the friends he cheered on in the prom yard before, he now makes a grand entrance in front of classmates, peers and parents, arm in arm with an elderly person in a silver sequined dress. just as festive.
As its name is called, they walk together under a billowing archway outside the gymnasium doors that reads “PROM 2022”. The room sparkles with tiny fairy lights – the theme is “Under the Stars” – and dances with the shadows cast by the DJ’s strobe lights.
They line up with the rest of the prom court, just as would-be kings and queens have done since the dawn of prom. But, unlike other balls, the students vying for king and queen here don’t all go to the same school. Unlike other balls, many guests don’t even attend the school that hosts the dance and events.
Because it’s the special ball hosted by the Nebraska Center for the Education of Blind and Visually Impaired Children.
Students who have benefited from the services of this one-of-a-kind school can attend, dress up and dance, no matter where they live. The same is true for high school students enrolled in special education programs throughout southeast Nebraska.
Seth is an old pro. It’s her fifth time at prom and her seventh year at the Center School, which is based in the Nebraska city and offers residential programs on a small campus on the northeast side of town. Seth also attended East Butler Public Schools in Brainard and grew up in David City. He was one of three graduates from the center last May.
But no matter how many times he’s been there, prom always stands out. “I thought that day and night was awesome,” he said.
“I thought that day and night was awesome,” he said. “I would say you are going to have a great time. And I would also say prom is a fun time for everyone.
The 2022 prom, held on April 21, drew 34 students from across the state, as well as family members, tutors, teachers and paraeducators. Not all students present are blind or partially sighted. Some may have mobility or hearing problems. Others are autistic. Because prom did not take place for two years due to COVID-19, graduates from 2018 onwards were invited to return to celebrate.
The school that hosts this ball and the work it does with the students are unique in the state of Nebraska.
The Nebraska Center for the Education of Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired has specialized staff who teach skills to students who need more specific training, from infancy through age 21. Staff teach students to read braille, use a cane to get around, and master everyday life skills, like emptying a dishwasher or cleaning a room.
The center is part of Educational Service Unit 4, which serves students in southeast Nebraska. Services provided by the Nebraska Center — which often goes by the acronym NCECBVI — are available statewide.
Students can come to the Nebraska City campus for a short term, said Sally Schreiner, the school’s campus administrator, or attend for several years to focus on certain skills before moving on to their local school districts. .
“We serve over 800 students in Nebraska, and the majority of those students are in public schools,” Schreiner said.
These specialized training opportunities are part of the reason for the centre’s annual ball.
It started as a simple social skills workshop nearly 30 years ago in a bank basement in nearby Auburn. Schreiner, who is retiring July 1, was there as a transition specialist, helping students transitioning out of education programs into more independent lives. She also served on the board of what was then the Nebraska School for the Visually Handicapped.
She realized that parents wanted more opportunities for their children to build friendships with peers outside of their local communities. Her role allowed her to get to know families and begin to make connections between students who lived in different school districts. The value of these face-to-face interactions has not changed, even as more and more parents and students are finding communities online.
“You know, we’ve come a long way in special education, the students we serve are included in so much more than they were when we started 30 years ago. But they still love those opportunities to come together,” Schreiner said.
Moving the event to the Nebraska City campus provided a different experience for students to come together – and allowed for new opportunities for community involvement. Decorations for this year’s theme, “Under the Stars,” were borrowed from Nebraska City High School. A local photographer set up a photo booth for students to pose in, to preserve memories long after the event.
Over the years, the social skills workshop evolved into an overnight stay followed by field trips to Nebraska City stores the next morning to test the skills learned the night before. Students learned how to try on clothes, find their size, navigate a bank and manage their money.
“And then it became, ‘hey, why don’t we have a dance?’ Then it turned into ‘hey, let’s make it bigger than just a dance.’ Let’s make it a full-fledged spring ball,” Schreiner said.
Now, students arrive in the afternoon for a skills workshop, hosted this year by the Nebraska City High School Speech Team.
After the workshop, they get ready in the centre’s dormitories before joining classmates, teachers and family in the cafeteria for dinner. Students from Nebraska City and Peru State College help students with dressing, hair and makeup, and serving the meal.
Then: karaoke. Seth heads to the karaoke machine after getting dressed.
Singing is one of his favorite things, next to announcing basketball games at several area schools. He sings bass in his church choir in David City, where he will live in Region V Systems housing after graduation. He also sings in a choir with the Knights of Columbus and with other visually impaired students at the center.
“I like old-school country music,” he said.
His favorite song is “Come Early Morning” by Don Williams. He also had a song request already chosen for the dance floor – “Tennessee River Run” by Darryl Wharley.
“Well, because it has a catchy melody. That’s good,” Seth said. “Usually when you think of dancing, you think of upbeat music, right?”
After dinner, the real party begins. The students split into groups to board a party bus, a
The students split into groups to board a party bus, a service Elite Party Buses has offered for several years.
The bus has colored lights and music to accompany passengers on a short ride through the city of Nebraska. It quickly becomes festive as the students let loose and Miley Cyrus or the Jonas Brothers arrive on the speakers.
The bus is not wheelchair and motorized accessible, but that didn’t stop Sam Wright from making sure to board.
Sam, a sophomore in Nebraska City, was born with cerebral palsy and needs a motorized wheelchair to get around. One of Nebraska City High’s paraeducators carries him up the stairs to the bus. He sits down between two paras, which turns out to be a good move when the bus hits a curb, jostling the trio. He sings, dances and laughs with several classmates sitting nearby.
Sam had already tackled one of the most stressful endeavors of prom earlier that day – asking a girl to dance with him.
“I was literally having a panic attack,” Sam said, gesturing with both hands for emphasis.
He went to other dances, but it was his first time at a ball and the stakes were higher. He passed a note to Nebraska City senior Katie Schreiter over lunch. She checked yes.
“It’s a great opportunity for these kids,” said Mary Wright, Sam’s mother.
She and her husband, Bryan, came with other parents to support their children and friends ahead of the coronation of the prom king and queen at 8 p.m. .
“As a parent, sometimes it’s hard to let them go through these things,” Wright said. Parents are concerned about the qualified staff available to help during the event. They fear that other students will not accept students with special needs.
Sam said he always felt accepted by his peers at his high school in Nebraska City. But that certainly doesn’t make the confirmation of those sentiments any less exciting. Katie and a fellow senior, Kendyl Schmidt, danced with Sam and her classmate, Bryce Maddox, long after students and parents started going to dorms or homes.
Once off the party bus, students are ushered through the wide-open doors of the gymnasium. The smoky Nebraska sunlight fades into darkness dotted with fairy lights on the walls, ceiling, and decorative evergreens.
A DJ is already getting into it, strobe lights flash to the beat. The dance floor is busy, but everyone is rushing for the “Cha Cha Slide”. The song is so popular that the DJ plays it twice.
Katie and Kendyl are two of five students from Nebraska City High School’s leadership class who attended the ball as escorts for several members of the royal court.
Seth doesn’t get the crown, but he doesn’t mind. He applauds Bryce and Auburn Public Schools sophomore Sarah Warren being crowned king and queen.
“I thought it was awesome. I thought what was awesome was having the belt,” Seth said, pointing to the white belt that reads “Prom Court.”
There really is no “end” to this ball. Students leave when they are tired, at one of the last events before heading out in the morning.
It’s a slumber party. Because the school has dormitories on its campus, students spend the night with their friends. It’s a young adult rite of passage that they often hear about in movies and from their peers, but often can’t live off campus.
“That’s what kids really like,” Schreiner said. “It’s no different for our students than it is for any other student going to prom. It’s a night to feel special, dress up and have fun with your friends. And maybe meet new people. That’s what we’re really trying to do, just make it a special night.
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