By: Katie Chrosniak, Mentor High School Senior
On October 11th, 2019, Memorial Middle School hosted its first ever special needs Halloween dance. More than 100 students throughout Lake County schools were invited to dance their hearts out in the Memorial gymnasium. Students from the special needs classrooms of Eastlake Middle School, Memorial Middle School, Mentor High School, Perry Middle & High School, and Shore Middle School were all given the opportunity to dress up and intermingle amongst each other. For those a little less fond of dancing, there were also activities such as ring toss, a photo station, basketball and pumpkin decorating to have fun with throughout the day.
While the Halloween dance may be the first large scale special needs event Memorial Middle School has hosted, the inspiration for the event came from people whose events they have attended in the past. Perry High School has continually hosted a luau dance each year, and they also sent some of their own students to attend this dance as well. While the dance at Memorial was smaller than the luau in Perry, those who came from the school expressed how they enjoyed the adaptable, calmer environment and hope to bring more of their students in the future.
Events like this one cannot be done without the help of everyone involved. Memorial Middle School P.E. students devoted their gym class time to engaging with the special needs community. Nearly 200 students danced with the students, took pictures, ran games, and much more to help the event be a complete success. Students such as 6th grader Gavin Gorka expressed how they enjoyed being able to work so closely with people of special needs and make their day brighter. Many student volunteers also stated how they hope to have more opportunities to engage with special needs peers in the future.
Faculty members of Memorial Middle School also expressed their desire for the event to become an annual tradition. Mrs. Weiss, the Multiple Categorical Disability Specialist at Memorial, spent months organizing the event in order to perfect every last detail. Her inspiration for doing so came from attending events such as the luau in Perry creating a desire within her to bring this type of multi-school bonding event home. With the help of Mr. Dwyer, Mr. Jekyll, and Mrs. Blackburn, the event went into planning mode in the spring of 2019 and the rest is history.
Mr. Dwyer, a DJ & teacher turned assistant principal, offered to break out his old records and give them a spin to provide Lake County special needs students with the opportunity to do the Monster Mash. Mr. Jekyll, a Physical Education teacher at Memorial, offered to help provide the event with students to help run the dance. He integrated the event into his lesson plans to provide his students with the opportunity to engage with a part of the community that grades 6-8 may not get to spend a lot of time with throughout their school day. Mrs. Blackburn, the head principal of Memorial, was enthused about the idea when Mrs. Weiss presented it to her near the end of last school year. She, like many who were present for the dance, hope for the special needs Halloween dance to become an annual tradition at Memorial Middle School.