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Teacher: Prom is a fun lesson for special education students

Teacher: Prom is a fun lesson for special education students

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A special education teacher at Wisconsin Dells High School is making sure her students have a memorable prom.

Prom is April 26 at Wisconsin Dells High School, and Mary Bebber, a special education teacher of 20 years, is using her own time and a school van to take six of her students to dinner at Monk’s at the Wilderness and then to attend the dance. Three boys and three girls will be going. Two of them are sophomores and the other four are juniors, Bebber said. She invited the sophomores to attend this year so they could experience prom as a group, whereas next year she anticipates having fewer juniors. Prom is a traditional dance for juniors.

Bebber said six support staff members will also be helping her to take the students out for the evening of fun, which is also educational.

“We try to get them to be involved in all the planning, because it’s just like any other thing. My job is to teach them daily living skills and part of daily living is doing recreational activity: going out for dinner, going to a dance, shopping for clothes. All of that is functional,” she said.

Going to dinner and prom is an opportunity for Bebber to observe her students in a different setting where sometimes she notices her students display higher levels of functioning than in the classroom. It is also possible for her to see them struggle with a task and it helps her understand what else she has to work on with her students.

“I like to see them outside of the classroom. We get to have fun. I get to see them on a more personal level, a social level,” she said.

One of Bebber’s students is receiving a dress from the high school’s fashion class, which has a program for students make alterations to formal dresses that have been donated to the school. Girls can wear the dresses to events like prom.

Debbie Hamburg, fashions class teacher, said the program is underutilized, but she is glad it exists to help even the few number of students who might want to use it.

The program saves students money from having to buy an expensive dress that they might not wear much, but as Hamburg pointed out, many female students who could be donating dresses to the program, keep their dresses for sentimental reasons. The program could benefit from having dresses that are one to two years old because students like the more recent fashions, Hamburg said.

“We need them to give their dresses up that year that they’re done with them,” Hamburg said. “…We need your dresses because they’re just going to hang in your mother’s house for 10 years and then they’re old and no one wants them.”

Even though the formal dress exchange program exists, not every one of Bebber’s students might want to use it. Depending on the student, it could be more appropriate for some of Bebber’s students to dress in more comfortable clothing that allows freer movement, like pants or sneakers, she said.

Wardrobe choice is not the only consideration. Some special education students cannot handle the noise or strobe lighting from that kind of activity, according to Bebber. That is one of the reasons why Bebber converts her classroom into a party room the night of prom. Her students can spend as much time at the dance as they want and return to the classroom for a break to have refreshments, watch a DVD or look at an iPad, she said. One person is going to make cupcakes decorated to the Alice in Wonderland theme for the dance, she said. The room will also be decorated according to the dance’s theme.

Photos will be taken throughout the evening, and Bebber said parents can enjoy a bit of a rest from having to supervise their children while they also have a good time at the school.

“We wanted to make it fun for the parents, too. I am a personal caregiver and I know what it’s like. I finally got a day off this week, so it was very nice and I appreciated it,” she said.

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