PORTAGE | Baylen Shanks-Meile couldn’t contain his excitement as he was waiting for his high school prom to start.
The Portage High School freshman, in a black shirt and trousers, accented his outfit with the high school colors in his red tie and white boutonniere.
The prom for Portage High special needs students was held Saturday evening at Woodland Park.
Tami Hudson, a paraprofessional at the school, said 17 special needs students were scheduled to attend, assisted by nearly 40 general education students as peer tutors.
As promgoers arrived, peer tutors helped them attach a flower to their lapel to ready for the grand march. Peer tutors also helped plan the event and decorate the hall with purple accents, while some students dressed in "Alice in Wonderland"-themed costumes for the Down the Rabbit Hole prom.
Courtney Kilgore, a PHS sophomore, is a peer tutor who accompanied Shanks-Meile to band in middle school and “reunited” with him in high school.
“Ever since I was little I’ve wanted to help kids with disabilities,” said Kilgore. “Sometimes it’s difficult, but once you get used to it, it’s a lot of fun.”
Food for the prom was donated by area businesses Harper & Rogers, Rhame & Elwood, U.S. Steel and Dave Reynolds of Genrich. The Woodland Park Sycamore Room was donated by Portage Mayor James Snyder, said special ed teacher Lisa Moser.
Moser said this is the first time in five years of hosting a special needs prom that everything was donated.
“By the time everything was said and done, it was all paid for,” said Moser.
Parents dropped off their teens and stayed to take photos.
“I think it is a wonderful gesture,” said Richard Meile, Baylen Shanks-Meile’s father. “Proms are very important and our special kids need a prom, too.”
Danny Wozniak, a senior, was looking forward to dancing to songs by Nicki Minaj after dinner with his peer tutor, Merannda Best.
“She’s nice, she helps me with math and everything,” said Wozniak, a senior.
Best said she’s been a peer tutor since middle school.
“I just love working with all the kids,” said Best. “They honestly are no different than any of us. They are so sweet. They love to have fun and they love to laugh.”