The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 5, 2013

Special education students celebrate prom at East

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — In the center of the gym, about 20 feet from a DJ’s speakers that are pumping out some song by Shakira, a ring of students is in a frenzy.

Clapping in unison, all eyes are on a young man in the middle. It is Jordan Bickell, who is wearing a dapper tie, yellow boutonierre and giant grim, and his arms are reaching out to anyone who will dance with him.

Then, he spots a pretty girl in a black dress. He knows this girl very well, and he’s been looking forward to his chance to dance with her — he sees her every day, and every day he asks if it’s time for prom yet. His arms reach out. She takes them. The two begin to dance as the circle looks inward on them, smiling, clapping.

It is likely no one in that room — heck, no one in that school — was happier than Jordan Bickell at that moment.

It was prom day at Mankato East High School. But not the kind of prom you’re probably thinking of. Friday afternoon the students from Kelly Dinsmore’s Life Skills class, a class populated with special education students, got to have their own prom.

It was the second time such a prom has been held at East. And this one, like the last, was put on mostly by the students in Daryl Arzdorf’s psychology class.

Dinsmore said it had come to their attention that the students in special education rarely get a chance to go to the school dances. So several years ago, Arzdorf’s students put on the first prom for the special education students. Dinsmore said this year’s students took the idea further than last time.

They decorated the gym and set up the Student Council’s recently purchased DJ equipment. In the hours before the dance began, some of the students helped do hair and makeup for the girls. In Life Skills, they did a little practicing on how to dance. The schools nurses provided the funds to provide refreshments.

“They’ve been looking forward to it for a couple of months,” Dinsmore said.

One of the psychology students, the girl in the black dress, is Jessica Phillips. Her family has known Jordan’s family for years, and each day during her free period Jessica plays Uno with Jordan. The two have become good friends.

Phillips will attend Winona State University next year and hopes to become a nurse. In her spare time, she has worked at a day care. She said she found it most rewarding to work with children with developmental disabilities.

She’s been one of the main planners for the prom and says she was happy when some of her classmates agreed to come and help out with the event.

Hanging out with Jordan, she said, isn’t about charity. It’s about being with a friend.

“I like making him happy,” Phillips said.

Happy, indeed.

The event was big on fun. With decorations on the wall, lasers from the DJ stand reflecting off the mirrors, “Party Rock Anthem” and “Thrift Shop” thumping from the speakers and bodies bouncing around on the dance floor, it was difficult to say this was anything but a collection of high schoolers having a great time at a dance.

“It’s starting to clear out now,” Dinsmore said. “They’re getting tired.”

Just then, one of her Life Skills students ran up, grabbed Dinsmore’s hand and pulled her out to the dance floor.