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A Special Prom Night to Remember

For the special students at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, a program for young people with disabilities provides more than mainstream education. Social interaction is also key.

May 23, 1996|MARK CHALON SMITH

Prom night is special for students everywhere. They get to look cool in smooth clothes, dance with a hot date and leave their parents at home.

It's no different for the students at Edison High School in Huntington Beach who are enrolled in the Special Abilities Cluster, a program for youngsters 14 to 22 who have multiple disabilities. They recently had their own party in a decorated multipurpose room on campus.

Only students, alumni and staff were allowed inside. Flags from various nations decorated the wall, bringing home the spring formal's theme, Around the World.

As DJ Scott Legros spun pop, students danced, yelled face-to-face to be heard over the rumble and took a break for cookies and punch.

The Special Abilities Cluster program began 25 years ago and was centered at an off-campus guidance center. In 1991, the true mainstreaming began; a space for the students was created at Edison.

Some of the 107 participants are mentally retarded, partially blind or deaf. "Their disabilities vary, but their goal is the same: to be as independent as possible," says program chairman Dan Ezratty, who has been with the district 19 years.

"Maybe they'll be able to ride the OCTD independently or prepare for adult services programs in the community," he says.

The program offers core curriculum--basic math, reading, social studies, science--and well as social and vocational skills geared to obtaining entry-level jobs. Some of the students attend integrated classes with the regular student body, according to administrators.

"We start working with them from the time they come to us, and we try to get them to a job site by the [time] they are 18 or as soon as they feel comfortable," Ezratty says.

But all work and no play makes. . . you know the rest. To help rev up the play factor, there are two formal dances a year, before the December holidays and in the spring. Members of the student senate from Edison High serve as aides, photographers and "Julie McCoys"--party-starters.

Some of the aides told vice principal Jackie Wexler that they danced more at the Special Abilities Cluster's party than at the one held for the complete student body the following night.

"Being on a campus is great," Ezratty says. "It's reverse integration, and our kids mingle with all the kids."

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