Homecoming dance held for CCISD exceptional needs students

By BRITTANY FHOLER
Cove Leader-Press

The Copperas Cove Five Hills Scholarship Pageant and Junior Miss Five Hills De’Ziyah Gilbert hosted the Homecoming Dance for Exceptional Needs Students Friday evening at the Copperas Cove Civic Center. 
This year marked the fourth year for the dance, which has previously been the Lil’ Dawg and Lil’ Lady Dawg Junior Homecoming Dance in years past. 
This year, De’Ziyah Gilbert wanted to try something new, so the dance was opened only to students in the Special Education Department and students who receive accommodations, such as through a 504 Accommodation Plan or an IEP. 
“I was happy that I got to do this because I wanted to celebrate all the special needs people, so they can know they’re loved and so we can all have fun,” Gilbert said. 
De’Ziyah and her sister, Dorianna, sold lemonade at their lemonade stand in front of Jersey Mike’s on Lemonade Day and earned more than $900. With a matching grant from the business, the two were able to boost their funds even more. The two split their funds between themselves to go towards their platforms of services. De’Ziyah’s platform is Anti-Bullying. 
Gilbert made 150 mums and boutonnieres for the students and their guests. Chick-fil-A donated the chicken nuggets for the dinner, while Raising Cane’s donated the drinks. Guests enjoyed football themed desserts that were donated by a local community member. 
Thanks to donations from local businesses and De’Ziyah’s Lemonade Day funds, the dance was completely free to students and their guests. There were 130 tickets were reserved for the dance. 
“We’re very fortunate that the district has such community support, and it’s things like this. I mean, this shows we really care about our kids,” said Wendy Sledd, CCISD Communications Director . “Yes, we want them to excel academically, but Dr. Burns’ philosophy is that we develop the whole child, and that’s what this event is about tonight.”
Lee Ann Jones was at the dance watching her daughter, Kelsey, 22, have fun with her friends. Kelsey has autism and is aging out of the Special Education program this year. 
“This is her last year, so I’m really glad they did this this year, so she had something that she could do,” Jones said. “They’re amazing. She loves it.”
Kelsey has been counting down the days until she could get dressed up and go to the dance, Jones said. 
“She told me, ‘You’re gonna be my date, but I’m gonna dance with Shawn.’ I love it. You know, they get those typical high school experiences through all of this.”
Senior Ms. Five Hills Renee Moore is also a Special Education teacher with CCISD. She was thrilled to see her students dancing and having fun Friday night. 
“They’re my babies, so it’s like my kids getting to enjoy themselves, and we’re pushing inclusion and wanting them to be able to enjoy their lives, and it’s amazing,” Moore said. “They are out dancing just like everybody else, getting to have a good time.”
Moore said she had promised her students earlier that she would dance with them and dance she did. 
“Just to see it, it’s amazing,” Moore said as she watched her students on the dance floor. “That’s what we want. We want them to have what everybody else has.”
Moore said she was so glad to be able to support her fellow titleholder’s efforts and see the benefit for her students. 
“It makes it worthwhile, to be honest,” Moore said. “I love what the pageant does and what it represents, and when you see stuff like this and know that you’re a part of that, it’s amazing.”
CCISD Special Education Director Cindy Franklin said that an event like this dance provided so many benefits to the students. 
“The benefits are that they’re socializing and getting to do something that their typically developing peers get to do, and sometimes they’re not involved in, and so it’s just a plus that Mrs. Sledd just got this together and let the kids mingle and have fun and have a night without any kind of barriers,” Franklin said. “It’s just a great event.”

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