Kent-Meridian students plan dance, create community

The invitation read, "You're invited! Bring the family!"

Days later, everyone received a phone call reminding them to come.

The decorations were made, and the cupcakes were frosted.

No one had ever done this before, but it was something they had to do.

"We thought it was important that we showed them we do care about them," said Alejandra Gonzalez, Kent-Meridian Rotary Interact Club vice president. "We don't want them to feel left out. This is their school too."

That night, the focus wasn't on their disabilities as students from all walks of life came together on the dance floor.

After months of planning, the Interact Club threw an after-school dance for the Adaptive Support Center (ASC) and The Outreach Program (TOP) students at K-M, the first of its kind.

The programs serve K-M's intellectually disabled students. ASC focuses on learning the basics like numbers and letters. TOP teaches social skills and functionality in the workplace.

The Interact Club, which usually performs community service projects like cleaning up parks, wanted to have a direct impact on the school community.

"As it is, they are separated from us," Gonzalez said. "This is a night where we're equals."

The planning began in November. The invitations were put in each student's backpack, but as the December date approached, few families had made reservations.

"That was our mistake," Gonzalez said. "Sometimes, their parents don't look into their backpack."

The date was pushed to Jan. 31. This time, the members called each family a few days before asking them to attend.

With everything in place, all that was left was to decorate for the Winter Wonderland theme.

Snowflakes hung on the walls of the cafeteria, and white trees illuminated the photo booth backdrop where families and friends took pictures.

The Interact members chose a variety of music, including group dance hits like the "Cupid Shuffle" or "Electric Slide." And as the base dropped, everyone's faces lit up as they circled up to dance "Gangnam Style" in the middle of the floor.

"The dance fulfilled the goals the Interact students set – an opportunity for special needs kids to attend a high school dance, have fun with their family and feel included," said Deborah Theisen, Interact Club advisor and campus manager.

Recognizing the importance of inclusion, the members of Interact hope this dance becomes a tradition at K-M.

"It's all about them," said Guillermo Baeza, Interact Club president. "And it's really an honor to (have done) this."

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