In late January, our NHS chapter at Montrose High School in Montrose, CO, hosted a dance for students with special needs. While our students in mainstream classes organize several events throughout the year, such as homecoming, prom, and various sporting events, to help make their high school experience memorable, many students with special needs do not participate for a variety of reasons. As a chapter, we decided to host an event that would help these students feel comfortable and included.
Our school has supported and participated in Special Olympics, but this was the first time our chapter had ever hosted a dance specifically for students with special needs at our school. As the adviser, I could have easily relied on my former career as a computer systems project manager to take command. But the students needed to organize this event themselves. After all, what better way to have them learn how to lead than by having them in the lead?
With my support, 10 NHS students formed a leadership team, which would design and manage a project that would impact a relatively large group of people. I provided direction as needed but left all the planning and implementation to the students.
The leadership team met weekly with me for about three months to monitor progress, discuss options, track the $1,700 budget, and determine solutions to the problems that inevitably arose (e.g., a last-minute decorations order, menu changes, and tangled lights). This work modeled the exact process involved in implementing projects in a professional environment.
The dance took place on a Saturday evening at the Montrose County Event Center. Our chapter wanted to host it at a venue away from the school to make it even more special for the kids. Although it was specifically held for students with special needs, NHS students and students from mainstream classes who support and engage these students through other school programs, also attended. One NHS student whose aunt has special needs even attended. Apparently, when the aunt heard her niece talking about the dance, she got very excited. It was wonderful to have her share our night.
As the final decorations were hung, the refreshments set out, the lights dimmed, and the music was about to start, my final concern was that there might be some awkwardness between the students with special needs and those from mainstream classes However, my concerns were completely unfounded. Kids from both groups started dancing together as soon as the music began at 6 p.m., and they didn’t stop until the end of the night three hours later.
The event was an outstanding success. The students with special needs had a fantastic time, and their parents who also attended the event were over the moon at how happy their children were. Everyone asked about doing it again next year, long before the night was over.
I feel certain this dance will become an annual event at our school thanks to the dedication of our NHS members.