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Projects Help Special Needs Students Learn, Gain Confidence

Many people never get over the fear of public speaking. But not the five students from a regional program based in Sparta High School, who helped give an hour long presentation at the recent Council for Exceptional Children annual conference held March 4-6 at the Amway Grand in downtown Grand Rapids. 

Renne Wyman teaches a special needs class which engages students by involving them in real-world projects. “Hands on learningTyler DeJohn and Dylan Fryman  from Sparta High School dressed up for the Best Prom Ever is the best way for students with disabilities to learn. It makes it easier to generalize why they are learning something.” said Wyman, who has taught this class at Sparta for 15 years.

Wyman explained that many students from her class eventually take classes at Kent Transition Center (KTC). Some have been overwhelmed by the school’s advanced technology and projects.  So now, the class is using the same technology, such as cash registers and computers, as KTC and students are more comfortable when they go there.  

Tateanna Muhqueed, from Sparta High School, made decorations for the Best Prom EverAside from preparing them for future classes, Wyman’s curriculum also prepares the students for the work environment.  Working at the school store and ice cream shop provides experience with customers and basic workplace skills.

A big project like the Best Prom Ever introduces students to project coordination and event planning on a large scale. Other projects include initiating a district recycling program and planting wildflowers around the schools to “Bring Back the Butterflies.”

Best Prom EverOne of the class projects was raising money to buy wildflowers and planting them with elementary students around Sparta schools

What started nine years ago as a small dance at a church for 50 people has grown to a large prom with 421 attendees and 234 volunteers. Wyman said the students do almost all of the work to get ready for the memorable night, including contacting sponsors and collecting supplies.

“The project started with a narrow vision, a small dance, and now we’re hosting an event that impacts 5-6 counties,” said Wyman, who was impressed with how far some of the prom attendees traveled. The event is free for students and adults with disabilities, thanks to the hard work of the students, volunteers, and many local sponsors.

Wyman believes the Best Prom Ever may be the only dance some have ever attended. It also gives the parents the opportunity for a “date night,” often hard to arrange with the high demands of raising special needs children.

Sparta High School students Tateanna Muhqueed (left) and Angel Groth filmed and operated the slideshow for the presentation The Best Prom Ever is a full service event, including refreshments, a photo booth, on-site hairdressing and limousine service, all free. The class even collected donations of hundreds of dresses and suits so that everyone could dress appropriately without having to buy new clothes.

When asked what the most difficult part of putting on the event was, Sparta student Andy Grettenberger said “It’s hard to keep up with calling and emailing everyone involved – there’s a lot of it.”

Tateanna Muhqueed from Sparta schools was excited to show off the placeholders she made for the dance. “I really liked doing the decorating,” she said.

“It’s so powerful,” said Wyman of her student’s accomplishments. “These are students who previously had been faking it to hide their disabilities. Project based learning has given them tools to make their capabilities visible and their Students in Sparta’s special needs program operate a full service ice cream shop during lunch periods (courtesy photo)disabilities invisible. Now they hold their head up high and can be proud of their work.”


Best Prom Ever Facebook

mLive story on Best Prom Ever

VIDEO: “Bring Back the Butterflies” Project

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Adrian Hirsch
Adrian Hirsch
Adrian Hirsch has been with SNN since its launch, starting as an intern from Grand Valley State University where he received a degree in broadcasting and business. After the internship, Adrian was brought on as staff to continue reporting, editing and publishing stories for SNN and Kent ISD. Adrian has been active with community radio station WYCE for years, served as Non-Profit Coordinator for GRTV, and currently works as the Web Producer for SNN.


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