Attending prom is a rite of passage for most high schoolers. But the lights, sounds, crowds and stimulation of a traditional prom can be hard to handle for students with special needs.
That's why a special prom is held each year for students enrolled in Elgin Area School District U-46's special education and transition programs and its past graduates.
Roughly 120 students, alumni, teachers and administrators will participate in the 11th annual Spring Fling from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Villa Olivia, 1401 W. Lake St., Bartlett. The event is hosted by the South Elgin Special Education transition program.
"The regular prom can be very overwhelming," said Katie Finn, special education teacher at South Elgin High School.
Finn said special education students don't always get to have a traditional high school experience. Alumni also are invited because they might not have such an opportunity for socializing after graduation, she added.
"We treat it just like any night going out," Finn said. "They wear their prom attire ... we play songs that the kids are going to like. While we do play music, we don't have the crazy lights. It's a smaller setting and it's a little more subdued. We provide a safer environment because we know the needs of the kids.
"They feel more adult. They feel more like they are just like everybody else."
U-46's transition programs include an Exceptional Needs program, which offers medical, physical, verbal and intellectual support, and the Secondary Work Experience Program, which follows a curriculum designed to support students as they develop self-determination and independent living skills.
Another U-46 transition program is Center House, a community-based program to help students become active and contributing members of a home and community.
The prom is facilitated through partnerships with community organizations and school groups, and private donations from families.
"It really is our whole community that puts this together," Finn said.