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Special School District of St. Louis County
The great thing about PROMises:
A unique student perspective on prom

It took a village to get Michael Johnson to prom.

Michael, a student at University City High School, has autism and faces challenges with verbal and social skills. But he hasn't let that keep him from success, said Stephanie Berry, an SSD area coordinator in the University City School District. He currently has a 4.0 GPA and takes honors courses.

That perseverance is why Berry was confident that Michael could and would attend his high school prom.

"During his IEP meeting, Michael and his parents indicated that he wanted to be socially accepted. This comment pierced my heart deep within," said Berry. "I told them that I was determined that he would attend prom with his peers. From that moment on, I felt it was my duty to work towards making this happen."

Berry and Michael's speech-language pathologist, Alexandra Kavourinos, worked to help Michael develop relationships with his peers.

"One idea after another from our multidisciplinary team made a dream a reality — one we all shall never forget," Berry said. "Michael's date was the fabulous Cabria Turner, who is also Michael's classmate. She is a very sweet young lady and felt honored that she had the opportunity to attend prom with Michael."

In the essay below, Michael gives his firsthand account of the prom experience.

The Great Thing About PROMises
By Michael Johnson

Prom is supposed to be one of the highlights of the high school experience, so naturally I thought it would be something else I would miss out on. Social interactions don't come easily to me, which made prom seem like an unattainable fantasy. But Dr. Stephanie Berry, area coordinator for University City High School, had made it her mission to get me to prom, so she made her pronouncement at my IEP!

That core of belief in me set the stage for what would eventually happen. She had been working behind the scenes screening a couple of my classmates as potential dates. There was no argument from me. I felt I would be honored to go with either of them!

I had been to a few dances geared toward special-needs students but heretofore lacked the courage to attend a regular school dance. The time had come. The typical students I had grown up with would soon depart, diplomas in hand. I wanted to prove I could overcome the social challenges and noise of prom. This experience for someone with severe autism is akin to the ascent of Everest.

The buildup to prom night seemed interminable. Which of the prospective dates could go? Who had a prom dress to lend? Who would help me at the prom? I found solace and support from my teacher Mrs. Kavourinos and Rachael, my aide. Both would be attending prom and Rachael would be my trusty helper. Another teacher, Ms. Johnson, helped my date buy shoes. My older sister was in town the week before prom to give me some dance lessons. The steps didn’t matter. She gave me the courage to just get out there and move. It took a village to get me to prom.

The big evening arrived with delays from a hailstorm and a forgotten ID. My tuxedo was hot and confining. My date looked spectacular, adding to my anxiety. I didn’t want to let her down. The tension climbed with the elevator carrying us up to Windows on Washington. The tension eased as I took in the scene and encountered familiar faces. And yes, I did it. I sat at a different table then planned, ate with a modicum of grace, posed for pictures, and danced. I lacked in style and fancy moves but still felt like part of the crowd.

My parents worried I might last only 30 minutes. The noise and new situation were challenging but I stayed for three hours. I remain a nonverbal autistic student but I treasure this evening of inclusion.
No Bullying

Cabria Turner and Michael Johnson

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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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