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‘Disco Fever’ hits Valencia High

Students enjoy third annual Special Needs Prom

Posted: May 28, 2009 4:57 p.m.
Updated: May 29, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Student organizers of the prom, left to right, Natalie Socher, Annie Dreher, Krista Pickard, Katya Ortiz and Rocky Maldonado. Not pictured: Amanda Sadra.

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It really was Saturday Night Fever all over again when about 75 students, decked out in their best 1970s styles, hit the gym floor at the third annual Special Needs Prom held at Valencia High School.

Underneath a canopy of rainbow netting and psychedelic neon lights, students from Valencia, Golden Valley and Canyon high schools gyrated through the Hustle, Bus Stop and some Cha-Cha-Cha while Henry Martinez of PEGLEG Entertainment spun a full mix of disco, reggae, salsa and rock ’n’ roll at heart pounding, ear-splitting levels.  During “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, the entire floor exploded into a blur of dancing bodies.

One such dancing queen was Cristina Albeno, 18, who attends Valencia. Pretty and petite in a strapless gown, she hardly left the dance floor all evening, barely stopping to take a breath.

“I am having a really good time at this prom,” she said.

Brandon Burris spun his brother Raymond Jackson, 16, around the dance floor in his wheelchair. Jackson, who has cerebral palsy, was dressed in a snazzy black tux and had a huge smile on his face, matched only by his 11-year-old brother’s happy grin as they joined the conga line.  

Glenn and Barb Bauernschmidt attended with their daughter, 17-year-old Katelyn, who is autistic. While Katelyn sat at a table swaying to the music, her father said she was enjoying the prom because she is familiar with the gym.  

Otherwise, there were few other parents to be found at the party, and that was just as it should be, said Nikki Hencey, a special education teacher at Valencia.

“It’s something all the kids look forward to,” she said. “School is so demanding, it’s the one opportunity they can go out and just have fun.”

Inspiration
Everyone agreed the Special Needs Prom was an event that was long overdue.

“It’s always been a good intention for a long time,” said Assistant Principal Vince Ferry. “But we had to wait for the right people to come along to organize it, to sponsor it and have cooperative parents and teachers. That time is now.”

Ferry gave credit to some of his key staffers, including Jeff Albert, activities director and senior class advisor and Mike Pontius, special education teacher and senior class advisor, whom he said took up the challenge to get it all done.

Another force behind the prom was Katya Ortiz, 16, student body president and junior class president.

“In my freshman year, Mr. Ferry suggested we do this,” Ortiz said. “This is the third year and it’s been great.”

Ortiz said the first prom had a Hollywood theme, the second was Disney and this year’s theme was Disco Fever.

Decked out in their finest ’70s glam, the other members of the student organizing committee were Annie Dreher, Rocky Maldonado, Krista Pickard, Amanda Sadra and Natalie Socher.

Ferry said as parents become comfortable with the event, he expects more kids will attend.

“It keeps getting bigger each year,” Ferry said. “The first year, it was only our campus, now we have kids from Golden Valley, Saugus, Hart and Canyon.”

Many felt much of the original inspiration for the event came from Valencia High special education teacher LaWana J. Clary, who was murdered in her Castaic home on April 5, 2007, one month before the first dance. Clary’s murder is still unsolved. Agasthi Ranasinghe, a special education teacher at Valencia, spoke fondly of his colleague.

“She wanted to initiate something just for the kids,” Ranasinghe said. “They hardly get a chance to participate in social events, or to enjoy them like the regular population. But she didn’t have a chance to see it.”

Yet Pontius said Valencia High School initiates many activities that include special education students.

“Our kids are the most integrated in the school, they participate in as many activities, sports, dance and theater, as the general student body,” he said. “But this prom is one of my favorite activities of the whole year.”

A Community Thing
For the second year in a row, Angela Palmer, owner of the Brow Bar Spa in Valencia, offered complimentary beauty services for the young women attending the Special Needs Prom.

“It was so neat, they had never had their hair and makeup done before,” she said. “Parents were so grateful.”

Palmer said her staff, Haily Nelson, Amanda Travis, Ashley Baker, Taimi Hebert and Lisa Lannin, did glamorous hair and makeup for nine girls that afternoon, including Rachel Finn and Chloe Alexander.

“It’s very nice that they volunteered to do this, I could never do that hairstyle myself,” said Lisa Alexander, Chloe’s mom. Palmer said her own daughter, Asia, attends Valencia High School.

“I try to do things to be involved with the school,” she said. “It’s been wonderful to give back to the community and an honor to do it, it feels good in the heart.”

Once again, Mike O’Conner Photography donated photos of the kids. PEGLEG Entertainment donated the DJ. Stone Fire Grill provided huge trays of tri-tip, bread sticks, potatoes and salad and Pizza Hut donated a mountain of pizza.

“It has become a real community thing,” Ferry said.

Disco Fever
Through the pulsating neon lights, one could just make out kids on the dance floor, including Kirsten Jacobsen, Cody Halverson, Jessica Moses, Jessica Cervacio, Blair Iwamoto, Timothy Antimisiaris, Teresa Williams, Marina Williams, John Rodin, Tanner DeFelicis, Jason B. Muse, Ryan Bullard, Jamie Defibaugh, Tamara Wilson, Briana Reyes, Krystyna Underwood, Hanna Osterberg, Sydney Ejedawe, Melanie Geist, Alex Brown, Marisa Watkins, Jacob Weitzman, Daniel Waters, Allison Hedke, Danny Barton, Wesley Patton, and Israel Tovar. Joseph and Julius Wright were also right in the middle of the dance floor, swaying and twisting to the music.

The twins played the role of “Ritchie Crawford” on “Family Matters” when they were 1 year olds. At 20 years old and 6-feet-3-inches tall, the handsome boys were hard to miss.

But right at their side, as usual, was their devoted sister, Starla Wright, 18, one of the leading captains of the Lady Vikings basketball team. Their mother, Dorothy Canty, was proud to see her sons so happy because there are few places they actually can go out to dance.

“Absolutely they love to dance,” she said. “I used to wash fingerprints off the walls, now I wash fingerprints off the ceiling.”

Ortiz summed up the evening nicely, reflecting on what Ferry and Pontius said earlier about the prom being one of their favorite student events.

“This one is very personal,” Ortiz said. “We can impact people really close to us. It’s hard work, but totally worth it.”

 

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