Southsider Voice correspondent
RISE Learning Center opened in 1971 to give Southside parents another choice for their special needs children. The school offered lower teacher to student ratios while providing more individualized attention and support for the children.
Sometime during 1977, some students were overheard saying that they felt left out and sad because their brothers and sisters went to schools that had dances and proms while they had no such things at RISE.
The seeds were sown and shortly thereafter school staff, teacher assistants, bus drivers, administrators and the PTO united to give the students a night to remember in May.
The school’s gym is annually transformed into a magical place where memories are made. The PTO provides a beautiful cake for the prom, while the local Kroger store typically sends a gift card to cover the cost of snacks and drinks. Many of the proms have depended solely on the generosity of the staff and PTO members, all of whom continue to volunteer their time and talents to these special students.
For several years a high school band played until the members grew older and left for college. High school clubs and church groups have donated prom dresses. Members of these clubs have even dressed up in their finest prom attire and volunteered to be dancing partners and chaperones for students without dates.
Former students and those who are 14 or older are always welcome. Many of the graduates return year after year, still requesting their favorite songs.
Last year was the first time that the school needed to charge students. Admission is $1 to offset food costs. Photo packages are available for a nominal fee.
By 1980 the dance had grown in size, and bands willing to play for free were hard to find. An aspiring disc jockey was recruited to donate his time. That gig has turned into a 35 year tradition.
Sharing in the joy and happiness displayed on these young people’s faces is all the reward volunteers need to warm their hearts. “Uur prom is so special because there isn’t that judgement associated with typical proms,” said special education teacher Jamie Stahly. “Everyone here is free to be who they are.”
As the prom tradition continues, these folks, who often struggle daily, can count on putting aside their troubles for this magical night.