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Class Crowns Girl Princess for a Night

February 28, 2001|ALLISON COHEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hours at the hair salon paid off for 15-year-old Jenna Decker on Saturday when the sophomore was named honorary princess of Verdugo Hills High School's Winter Ball.

Jenna, who was born with Williams Syndrome--a genetic disorder causing mental retardation and severe heart ailments--was selected for the honor by classmates who helped organize the event.

"I was shocked to death when I heard my name," Jenna said. "This was a great night for me."

When her name was announced, Jenna thrust her fist in the air in excitement and burst into tears. Many of the nearly 500 students at the dance in Glendale Civic Auditorium chanted "Jenna! Jenna!" After she made her way to the dance floor, one of her leadership classmates placed a crown of white pearls on her well-coiffed "up-do" and presented her with a bouquet of roses.

Classmates from her third-period leadership class had arranged to honor Jenna after she said she would love to be part of the dance's "Fantasy Court" but was afraid to have her name placed on the ballot.

"This is great," said student body President Judith Estrada, 18. "Not only are we saying we are all equal, but we are also saying that if she can do it, anyone can."

Jenna transferred to the Tujunga school last year from the High Desert town of Hesperia. She joined the leadership class earlier this month when she began attending mainstream classes and activities. Her duties in leadership class have included making posters to promote the dance and speaking in front of the school to encourage students to buy tickets to the event.

"They treat her at this school like she is an equal," said Jenna's mother, Susie. "She's been embraced and accepted by all the kids. It's been exceptional."

Jenna's dad, Tom, who drove from San Diego to escort his daughter to the dance, was equally taken with her classmates.

"Boy, she sure does have a lot of friends," he said.

Jenna said she danced the night away until 11 p.m. and awoke still feeling like a princess the next morning but was happy that "hundreds" of bobby pins holding up her long hair were gone.

"The songs, the drinks, the food. . . . My dad looked so handsome," she gushed. "I had a lot of fun."

The event was also meaningful for Jenna's classmates, who cried at seeing how much the honor meant to their new friend.

"It was special," said Lindsey Brandt, 16. "This is a highlight of the year. We hope that other people realize that she is no different than us."

KUDOS

Quick Thinkers: Students from Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood have won first place in the San Fernando Valley regional finals of "Mathcounts," a nationwide competition organized by the National Society of Professional Engineers. The contest was created 18 years ago to promote math achievement in middle schools.

The top individual scorer for the team was eighth-grader Abram Kaplan. Other team members were eighth-graders Cody Cohen and Nathan Shayefar and seventh-grader Timothy Hsieh. The Placerita Junior High School team from Newhall finished second, and Tarzana's Portola Magnet Middle School placed third.

Competing teams are given several math problems to solve quickly, using concepts such as algebra, geometry and probability. In the final round, students must solve a complex problem in 45 seconds. The teams will compete next month in the state finals. Winners from that round will advance to the national finals to be held in May in Washington, D.C.

Student Wire: Journalism students from John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills and Glendale High School have been chosen, along with those from 22 other top California high school newspapers, to post their published newspaper stories on a special Associated Student Press Web site.

The six-month project will function the way news wire services do for professional newspapers, but for student journalists. Students can meet other student reporters online and give feedback to each other on stories, exchange ideas and get breaking story tips.

"This is critical for the students so they can increase their knowledge of real-world skills," said Kennedy journalism advisor Penny McMillan.

Class Notes appears every Wednesday. Send news about schools to the Valley Edition, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or fax it to (818) 772-3338.

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