The smiles, it’s the smiles that keep the student volunteers coming back every year. It’s the smiles that bring joy to the teachers’ eyes. It’s the story of the smiles that recruit new volunteers from the school and community.
For almost two decades, the Kennesaw Mountain High School community has opened its doors and hearts to those students in Cobb Schools with special needs. Each year, Kennesaw Mountain welcomes hundreds of students with special needs to a dance that takes student volunteers months to organize. This year, about 400 student volunteers helped bring the dance to life.
Kennesaw Mountain students lined the walkway and hallways to welcome the special guests, many of whom already had smiles as wide as the dance floor.
The students passed underneath a canopy of twinkling lights before entering the Under the Big Top-themed event that aptly could be called “the Greatest Dance on Earth”—at least in the eyes of the VIP guests spinning, twirling, and rocking out inside the transformed gym.
“Our students are just having the best time of their lives,” declared Hanna Bacon, a McClure Middle School special needs paraprofessional.
This year’s dance was a first for Bacon although her students had been telling her about it. She didn’t know what to expect.
“It has exceeded my expectations,” Bacon confessed. “I thought there was going to be some balloons here and there and some soft music, but no, it is a party out there! They are going to remember this day for a long time!”
One of the Kennesaw Mountain student mentors who helped make the special needs dance so memorable was a sophomore named Natalie. Like many of the mentors, her job was to encourage the shy guests to dance.
This was Natalie’s first time seeing the big dance live. She had heard about it and was excited to be able to participate, but it definitely went beyond what she had imagined.
When asked for her reaction to students, like Natalie, taking the hands of her students so they could dance, Bacon almost began to cry.
“Social interaction is very important to them especially when it is a place that they know they can be safe,” Bacon added. “[Our students with special needs] know that these people are here for them. The volunteers are here to participate with them and love them just the way they are.”
They even created a separate dance space in another gym where the special guests could take a break from the rockin’ DJ to listen to soft music courtesy of the Kennesaw Mountain student orchestra. There were also sensory stations to help the guests relax after a jam session on the main dance floor.
As a finale to the greatest dance on earth, a cascade of colorful balloons blanketed the dancers, who reached high to try to touch the falling rainbow.
That’s the best part: “…Seeing all the smiles on their faces and seeing how excited they are to be at the dance,” Natalie beamed.