BEACON FALLS — For students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, attending a prom can be a high school experience they miss out on. That won’t be the case this year for the Woodland Regional High School Best Buddies chapter.
The 2016 WRHS Best Buddies Prom is Saturday. The event was organized by Woodland senior Paige Brown for her senior project.
“We’ve had proms (for the Best Buddies) in the past, but they were at the school and it wasn’t the full prom experience. I want these kids in the club to have a full prom experience,” said Brown last week as she sat with fellow senior and her Best Buddy Michael Pec at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Prospect.
Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization with chapters across the world that works to create opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the organization’s website states.
Woodland Principal Kurt Ogren said Best Buddies, which has been at the school for about two and a half years, exemplifies the school’s core beliefs of developing “citizens who are active, positive, and productive members of an ever-changing world.”
“This program is vital to Woodland. Two of the main goals of the Best Buddies program is to help foster one-to-one friendships and offer leadership opportunities to our students both with and without disabilities,” Ogren said.
Students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) could be sensitive to the loud noises, flashing lights and big crowds that make up a typically prom. Brown said Pec would not be able to attend a typical prom because the bright, flashing lights could trigger a seizure.
“I just really want them to have the prom experience because I feel like that is something everyone should have whether you have disabilities or not,” Brown said. “Not a lot of the students with IDD go to their senior prom because it doesn’t fit their needs. Some have social anxiety and it’s hard for them to be in that big of a group. They could just shut down.”
The Best Buddies prom will give students the full experience. A handicap accessible motor coach will pick students up at about 4 p.m. at Woodland to whisk them away to the Lakeview Lodge in Bethany. The prom will feature a photo booth, a DJ, food, superlatives and the crowning of a prom kind and queen.
“I want everyone in the club to really let loose and be in a comfortable setting and be able to have fun,” Brown said.
The prom will be attended by about 60 people, including current students, former students with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their peer buddies, teachers, and paraprofessionals.
“Best Buddies Woodland is a program designed to foster one to one and group friendships between students with and without disabilities,” said George Meyers, one of the advisers for the Woodland Best Buddies chapter. “The prom is one more activity that helps to continue those friendships and gives all of our students an opportunity to attend a meaningful event whose memories will last a lifetime.”
Brown said the prom is an experience all students should have and one they remember the rest of their life.
“Even when you are 80 you remember your prom date, what dress you wore, and what songs you danced to. I don’t think, just because someone has a disability, they shouldn’t be able to experience that,” Brown said.