Every April, for one evening, Eden Prairie High School (EPHS) is transformed. Twinkling lights hang from pillars, streamers and balloons frame the space and lively music lights the mood ablaze. This is the scene from past years of the EPHS Insights Prom—where the dance floor is filled with colorful disco lights and even more colorful dance moves, and the smiles on the happy faces of students steal the show.
The Insights Prom is a dance designed for students with special needs who might not feel as comfortable at the school’s traditional prom. “The traditional prom is held off campus with about 800 students attending,” says Jill Boyd, choir teacher at the high school and advisor for the Insights Prom. “It’s really big and can be really overwhelming.” The Insights Prom is held on campus and kept small—a mix of students with special needs and others in general education, coming together through laughter and dance.
The event actually begins a few hours before its official start time. “Some of the girls come here at 3 p.m. to start doing makeup for the kids with special needs,” says Boyd. Then, around 5:45 p.m., after boutonnieres have been pinned snugly to lapels and corsages have been fastened to wrists, the grand march begins. “Each special needs student is paired with one or two buddies from general education,” says Boyd. The students’ names are announced, one by one, and they pose for photos for parents and friends who have come to watch the traditional procession.
After the grand march, the parents are “lovingly kicked out,” says Boyd, explaining the goal is to make this an independent evening of fun for the students. The students attend a dinner, catered by Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano, which includes meals for students with special dietary needs. And after dinner, the dance begins—an evening where students can raise the roof with their peers and truly be themselves.
The Insights Prom was created in 2011 by a group of senior girls in Boyd’s music class. “I teach a class called Music Insights,” she says. “It’s an inclusion music class where students with disabilities are paired up with [students from general education]. We were doing a song in class, dancing and warming up, and I said, ‘We should have a dance.’” And a group of students took Boyd’s idea and ran with it.
“The senior girls kind of took control,” Boyd says with a laugh. The event has grown over the years, and it now includes 15–20 students on the planning committee, as well as the help of many parents. Each year, parents and students make the decorations, finding creative ways to hang lights and streamers from the 24-foot ceiling of the high school commons. “Hours and hours go into it,” says Boyd. “Kids make the invitations, design and create a theme [and] put up the decorations.”
Darla Nemec’s son David has attended the Insights Prom the past three years, and he plans to attend again this year. “I think he enjoys the opportunity to hang out with the entire group of people,” Nemec says. “I think it’s the independence and the interaction.” The first year David attended the event, his mom wasn’t sure what to expect, but now both mother and son view the Insights Prom as an evening to look forward to. “I enjoy how happy and proud he is,” Nemec says of watching her son each year during the grand march. “I appreciate that it is a full evening with no detail spared.”
Boyd hopes the event will continue for many years to come. “It’s the students that keep it going,” she says. “The kids are so compassionate. They love their peers.”
To donate, email Jill Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org