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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Inclusive prom’s ‘stars’ showed bright at Brighton

May 29, 2022 12:43PM ● By Julie Slama

Brighton High’s Camille Madsen, voted as prom queen, dances alongside her peers at the school’s first inclusive prom. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

“It feels good.”

Those were the words of Brighton High’s inclusive prom king Gabe Salinas shortly after being crowned.

Salinas and his classmates had walked in on a red carpet into the school’s commons for “A Night with the Stars.”

“It’s ‘A Night with Stars’ because these kids are the stars,” said sophomore Isa McMaster, who organized the school’s first inclusive dance. “They deserve a night, a prom where they’re comfortable and able to have fun with their friends.”

With music playing, girls and boys dressed up wearing corsages and boutonnières, they rocked the dance floor with their peer tutors, teacher Jared Denslow and others who made the night special. They even celebrated their royalty — Salinas, prom queen Camille Madsen, and court royalty Hailey Brown, Emily Pack, Trinity Kair and Michael Mejia.

 “The whole community and parents were so excited to help us,” McMaster said, adding the deejay, photographer, food, flowers and several other items were donated or discounted for the dance that was pulled together in 45 days.

The idea came about after having played together in Special Olympics’ unified basketball, where both students with disabilities played alongside their peers. Brighton, in its first season, won the state title in its classification.

“We had so much fun. We got really close, and we’ve hung out and developed close friendships, so we wanted to let them have a night that isn’t overwhelming, but fun,” she said. “We think how much we affect them, but honestly, it’s how much they affect us. They have taught me so much about patience and unconditional kindness.”

McMaster fell into peer tutoring by accident. Last year, she was at the counselor’s office trying to figure out an elective to take when a friend suggested peer tutoring.

“I absolutely love being a peer tutor. Last spring, I didn’t have it in my schedule, and I couldn’t last even a week. I went in and changed it so I could be with these kids. They give me so much joy. It makes my day every day at school to see them and be around them. They’re so positive and heartwarming,” she said. “They’ve become the meaning of my high school experience.”

Principal Tom Sherwood said he was on-board when approached about a student-driven inclusive dance for this spring—and in future years.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for all our students to get dressed up, dance, have and be able to talk about the same experiences,” he said. “It speaks to the love and respect our students have for each other. It speaks to the goodness and empathy of those who want to plan an event to welcome their peers in a safe and fun environment and it speaks to those who are always friendly and kind to others.”

McMaster said the prom was memorable for all the students.

“They’re our best friends at school; they mean so much to us,” she said. “It’s something we’ll all remember.”