Prom Through the Eyes of Two Unified Students


Lisa Buck

Maddie and Andy at the grand march before the dance started.

Seniors at Orono High School had the opportunity to attend Prom 2021 at Edinburgh Golf Course in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. With attendees being mainly open to seniors only, little to no juniors were in attendance; with the exception of Andy Combs and his Prom date, Maddie Lewis.

Both Combs and Lewis are involved in the Unified Club at Orono High School. The Unified Club, started in the 2012-2013 school year, was created with intent to provide closure for those with disabilities and a way for those with and without disabilities to interact with one another through sports and other activities.

“Unified makes me feel good and I can see and hangout with my friends,” senior Maddie Lewis said.

According to the article, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Rural Special Education and the Limitations of the IDEA,” the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, implemented in 1975, established those with disabilities to have rights to free public education. This is important because without this act, those with disabilities would not be able to learn and develop cognitively, physically, and mentally without an education integrated into their lives.

“Inclusion at Orono has reduced some obstacles and barriers of us having to do so much work for Maddie to be seen and heard. It’s important for students and staff alike to learn about the need for inclusion because it opens their eyes. Your own experiences are based only on what you know,” Maddie’s mom, Kelly Lewis said.

With COVID-19 restrictions, the Orono Unified Club was unable to participate in in-person activities for over a year. The pandemic, which began in 2020, has implemented struggles for school principals that are working to adequately support students with disabilities, according to the article, “School Principals and Students with Special Education Needs in a Pandemic: Emerging Insights from Ontario, Canada.”

“I like to hangout with my friends in Unified. My favorite sport is basketball,” junior Andy Combs said.

Combs and Lewis were both unable to participate in many Unified sports during their 2020-2021 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the article, “How Students without Special Needs Perceive Social Inclusion of Children with Physical Impairments in Mainstream Schools: A Scoping Review,” students without disabilities avoid interacting with those with disabilities, leading to a lower chance of befriending them. This demonstrates the exclusive environment at school for those with disabilities.

“Prom is supposed to reflect the spirit of the students and the enjoyment of each other. I think inclusion is very important for Prom and that’s why it’s important for the school to plan it like other schools this year,” Prom coordinator and OHS English teacher Grace Nohner said.

Though this year’s Prom looked a little different, coordinators and students alike were able to make it memorable for everyone in attendance, including Maddie and Andy.

Exclusion against those with disabilities has not been uncommon in history. Discrimination against those with disabilities is still present, even dating back from the 1800s to modern day, according to the article, “Unfit to Be Seen: Customer Preferences and the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

“When I first started here, my kids that were in the room, right across from the nurses’ office, literally just stayed in that corner. Nobody knew who they were; they would walk down the hall and nobody would say hi to them and now it’s like everybody knows Pierce right? Everybody knows Jacob, everybody knows Alisa. So just getting them to be more part of the school versus being in a little secluded spot is very fulfilling,” Unified Coordinator and OHS Mathematics teacher, Michelle Swenson said.