California High Hosts Dance for Special Needs Students

Hundreds of high school students with special needs from around the Tri-Valley enjoy music, dancing, activities, food and friendship at California High “Winter Wonderland” Dance

The California High Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) hosted students with special needs from around the Tri-Valley for a “Winter Wonderland” Dance on Friday, December 2nd, from 10:00am to 12:00 noon at the California High School Event Center. Guests included students with moderate to intensive special needs from high schools in the San Ramon, Dublin and Pleasanton school districts. Nearly 250 students, accompanied by approximately 125 special education teachers, para-educators, aides and parents, enjoyed music, dancing, activities, food and friendship.

Recognizing that students with special needs are not always comfortable at other dances, the California High PTSA customized this dance with specific song choices, lower sound levels, appropriate lighting, developmentally appropriate activities, dietary specific refreshments and a “quiet zone” where students could take a break from the festivities.

A committee of PTSA leaders, parents and educators collaborated for a year to produce this meaningful and successful event. Volunteers also included California High School Leadership students who facilitated activities such as “Search the Snow”, a tactile experience where students explored a bin of “snow” (uncooked rice) searching for treasures. Prior to the dance, Cal High Special Education teacher Christine Niemoeller and her teaching assistants coached Leadership students on how to effectively interact with and assist students with special needs. Additional student volunteers included Cal High art students who did face painting at the dance, and Cal High dance students who led group dances. Also on hand were San Ramon Mayor Bill Clarkson and officers from the San Ramon Police Department who greeted the students with badge stickers.

California High School Principal Sarah Cranford shared, “Cal High was lucky to have the opportunity to provide this event for students throughout the tri-valley. The smiles on the kids’ faces were contagious. It is a great reminder that our students with special needs often impact and teach us more than we teach them.”

California High PTSA President Vanessa Berastain added, "One of the goals of the California High PTSA is to support a welcoming and inclusive school community. The Winter Wonderland dance was planned with this in mind, because when a community comes together with dedication and love, beautiful things happen.”

Cal High parent Amanda Sinclair, whose 9th grade son Ricky Perez is in Mrs. Niemoeller’s class, stated, “It was truly a unique opportunity for both the students with special needs and their general education counterparts to come together and celebrate. I am so touched by the effort, enthusiasm, and fun had by all. The strength of the Cal High community was really reflected in its diversity and acceptance. I really can’t say who had more fun, the invitees or the student volunteers.”

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