High school students from across the Madison area will have the opportunity to experience an inclusive prom at La Follette High School on May 10, 2019.
The prom will be hosted by La Follette’s Project Unify club, the club for the school’s Special Olympics Unified Champion School program. Running from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., the “A Night Out”-themed dance will offer students with and without intellectual disabilities a chance to dress to the nines, walk the red carpet, break out their best dance moves, and create memories with their friends to last a lifetime. Typically rotating between the MMSD high schools, La Follette is the host of the event this year. However, for the first time the event has been opened up to other schools in the area. Students from Monona Grove, Middleton, Oregon, Verona, Sun Prairie, Deforest and Stoughton have been invited to attend this year’s prom in the spirit of inclusion – which is what Unified Champion Schools are all about.
“We want all students to have the ability to go to a school dance,” said Ryen Hinze, special education teacher at La Follette and one of the organizers of this year’s event. “But this gives students with special needs an opportunity to experience a special evening no matter their needs or abilities.”
“A Night Out” is meant to complement the area high schools’ traditional proms, meaning some students may choose to go to both dances. The “A Night Out” theme was selected to mirror La Follette’s “Hollywood” theme for their traditional prom. However, “A Night Out” will be unique in that there will be students from multiple schools, the event is free of charge, and as a Unified Champion Schools event, inclusion will be front and center.
A Unified Champion School is a school that works with Special Olympics to promote social inclusion through intentionally planned and implemented activities that equip young people with tools and training to create climates of acceptance. These are schools where students with disabilities feel welcomed and like they’re an essential part of all school activities, opportunities and functions. Through inclusive sports, inclusive youth leadership opportunities, and whole school engagement, Unified Champion Schools are transforming the landscape for schools in Wisconsin, and across the country.
“We want all students to have the ability to go to a school dance. But this gives students with special needs an opportunity to experience a special evening no matter their needs or abilities.” – Ryen Hinze, special education teacher at La Follette and one of the organizers of this year’s event
In Wisconsin alone, there are more than 100 schools who have pledged their commitment to inclusion by becoming a Unified Champion School. Nationwide, there are nearly 6,500 Unified Champion Schools. Last year, 3 million young people engaged in inclusive experiences and school activities across the country.
While La Follette High School has only been a Unified Champion School for a few years, the club has quickly gained a great deal of momentum in bringing inclusion to its campus. From the 2017-18 school year to the 2018-19 school year the club has tripled in membership.
For this year’s Spread the Word: Inclusion Week in early March, La Follette’s Unified Champion School club celebrated inclusion with two full days of activities and engagement that included t-shirt giveaways and cards and banners to sign pledge to spread inclusion. The club’s booth that they set up for the two days was a hit with the students of La Follette, even exceeding the club’s expectations.
“I was shocked with the amount of students who came up to the booth to learn more about the club or share their own stories,” Hinze said.