Time of their lives

October 27, 2017

When October rolls around, one main event lingers in the mind of every high school student: homecoming.

As Beyoncé reverberated throughout the gym two weeks ago during the homecoming dance in the Claver Center, CCHS Options student Ramsey Madueno ‘21 danced the night away during this year’s “You’re the Don that I Want” themed homecoming dance, an event that integrated special needs students with general population students in an effort to create an all-inclusive event.

“Options is a program that is designed to give students with disabilities the opportunity to have a Catholic high school education and the high school experience,” said Ms. Adriana Pehl, who serves as the current Options program teacher.

Unlike many other high schools that attend only to special needs students’ academic lives, CCHS strives to impact these students social lives as well, Ms. Pehl said.

When the homecoming season arrives, high school students often worry about their makeup, date, and outfit, which often puts an emphasize on the superficiality of the dance. However, CCHS Options teachers, mentors, and students are focused on one goal: helping the options kids enjoy an awesome night.

Mission accomplished.

“I had danced so much it felt like my feet were ready to fall off by the end of the night,” Madueno said.

High schools host dances, rallies, and football games to create social events for students, occasions that are viewed as the ultimate high school experience. Although high schools host the events, many schools do little to make sure that all students, especially those with special needs, particiapte equally.

At CCHS, Options kids have mentors who work with them to complete homework or focus in class. However, not only do these mentors assist Options students educationally, but also socially, instilling close bonds with the kids that allow friendships to bloom.

Throughout the dance, Options mentors were given 30 minute slots to dance, to take pictures, and to accompany the Options students.

“I can’t even explain the feeling I experienced being able to see the smile on their faces during the dance,” Lizandrea Vizcarra ‘19, a first year Options mentor to Madueno, said. “I loved being able to encourage them to stay confident and simply enjoy the night.”

Achieving this goal might seem easy, but it is quite the opposite.

Students with learning disabilities often experience self esteem and anxiety issues. The opportunity of attending a homecoming dance as an Options student was an experience that allowed nearly all of them to break out of their shells and be a teenager for a night.

The point of having the mentors stay with the kids was to support them socially, making sure that they are all included and happy, a statement echoed by Ms. Pehl. The mentors were the secret ingredient in the success of this year’s homecoming dance.

“I danced, I laughed, I even ate some amazing food,” Madueno said. “It even made me wish homecoming was everyday.” 

The CCHS homecoming was unlike any other school’s homecoming, because the Options kids made it a one-in-a-million dance. The opportunity to offer a program like Options is extraordinary.

“I feel completely blessed to be part of something so beautiful at our school,” Vizcarra said. “The support and love these children are shown is something that should be available to all students with disabilities all over the world.”

Following the success of Options first year at CCHS, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that from 2014 to 2015, 6.6 million kids between the ages 3 to 21 received special education services. CCHS resembles a grain of sand in the remarkable advancement of education for students with disabilities.

As music pounded through the colorfully-lit gym, homecoming became a dream come true for the options students. It was a night full of laughter, new friendships, and unforgettable memories, which made the “You’re the DON I want” dance by far the best.

The Options program has given so much to the kids, but the kids have given so much to the CCHS campus.

After the dance, cheerful and elated Ramsey said, “You can never dance too much.”

Options students continue to be a beautiful light of shining positivity in classrooms, dances, and everywhere on campus, Vizcarra said. 

The CCHS homecoming continues to be an ideal example of why programs for disability students are so crucial to schools all around the U.S. These unique teens continue to be teens at the end of the day who deserve to have an education and who deserve to live a normal teenage life.

“This year’s homecoming gave Options students a night full of memories that will last a lifetime in their hearts,” Vizcarra said.

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