FAIRFIELD — With music from Pharrell to the Village People, special education students in Solano County danced the morning away Friday in Armijo High School gym.
About 200 students filled the gym floor, some in motorized wheelchairs, a few with white canes used by the blind.
One couple, Lacey Culloty and Kristian Galvante, slowed danced to almost every song. A bevy of adults looked on, snapping pictures as the couple easily moved across the dance floor.
Nearby, a circle formed around those willing to give their break dancing skills a try. As a new dancer entered the inner circle, they were greeted by cheers. It was the same response for those who spun on the gym floor, then hopped up and out of the inner circle to watch others showcase their skills.
The dance is one of three major events in the school year for special needs students. Bowling at Stars and golf at the Green Tree Golf Club, both in Vacaville, are the other two.
Lynne Lee, an adapted PE teacher at Armijo, coordinates the event. She was recently honored by the Community Advisory Committee of the Special Education Local Plan Area.
She doesn’t remember exactly when the dance started, saying it was “at least 20 years ago.” But she knows why. The goal is to give the special needs students an event, akin to prom, of their own.
A disc jockey and the Ulatis Creek Bluegrass Band provided the music.
“A lot of these kids have probably never heard bluegrass (music) before,” said Wendy Breckon, who plays mandolin and sings with the band. “I think they will enjoy it.”
Christopher Denby, who plays upright bass and sings for the band, said he and his bandmates thought it would be fun to entertain.
Before the music started, his father Cliff Denby roamed among the crowd with a washboard in hand. He stopped to let student Dominque Blas give it try. She has been blind since birth and joyfully ran her fingers up and down the washboard.
“It is so awesome,” she said.
She was briefly joined in concert by Israel Smith.
Vanden High School was represented by six students, among them Jamie Murphy, who danced the entire event.
“This is really a big social event for them,” said Kathy Ovitt, a paraeducator at Vanden. “They get to see their friends. They love it. I love it.”
Instructors and volunteers such as Jasmyne Rush danced almost as much as the students. Rush, a Vanden High School senior, volunteers with special needs students at her school. She plans to work in the field after graduation.
She danced with Murphy. Both grinned from ear to ear.
“He likes to do things his own way,” Rush said of Murphy. “He’s not afraid to be himself. He’s a happy guy.”
Rosie Aron took the day off from her job with special education students at K.I. Jones Elementary School to attend the dance. She came to see some of her former students, ones she had taught in third, fourth and fifth grades.
Aron got a fair dose of hugs and plenty of smiles from former students saying, “Hi Miss Rosie.”
She said she was pleased to see how they had become young adults. One of the most amazing transformations was a young man who frequently interrupted her class.
“He’s changed so much,” Aron said. “He’s a man now. He fits right in.”
There were some obvious crowd favorites as the dancers formed lines stretching across the gym floor for the Village People’s “YMCA,” the electric slide, DJ Casper’s “The Cha Cha Slide” and Cupid’s “Cupid Shuffle.”
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.