As another school year comes to a close, students and staff at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf (WSD) continue to reminisce on a number of memorable experiences organized by the Wisconsin Educational Services Program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (WESP-DHH) Outreach team.
One of the highlights of the year took place in early May, when prom weekend returned to the school. After taking a break the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students participated in yet another successful celebration of prom weekend. This year, there was an added community service aspect that allowed students to give back to the surrounding community.
Though prom was on pause the last couple of years, the WESP-DHH Outreach team did not take a break, collecting formal wear items for girls and boys at the school. These donated items included dresses, suits, shoes, jewelry, dress pants, ties, and even fragrances. Role models, some older WSD students and former students, also returned to WSD to volunteer for the weekend, helping out and mentoring current students.
“We wanted students to say, ‘Yes to the dress,’” WESP-DHH Outreach Program Coordinator Bonnie Eldred said. “We provided an opportunity to try on dresses, and we had people, role models, come in to do people’s hair. It was a really cool experience.”
WSD students took on the initiative in planning the prom weekend, collaborating with other students and deciding on a theme, a DJ, food, and much more.
WESP-DHH Behavioral Health Specialist Scott Kendziorski said prom/Quest weekend was unforgettable not only for students, but also for him. He said that while some students were nervous upon arriving, it didn’t take long for them to warm up and have fun.
“Some students were unsure at first, but once they got there, it was great,” he said. “They all socialized with each other…everyone has a different background, so it was really great to see them all interacting.”
Eldred and Kendziorski are both former WSD students. Having experienced prom while attending the school, they knew the value in participating and worked hard with other colleagues to plan the event and activities they did not have when they attended.
“A mom of one of the students contacted me afterward and said, ‘Thank you so much for this opportunity for my child to see other students like her,’” Eldred said. “After the weekend, her daughter was thrilled and felt like she could connect with those like her who have hearing loss.”
Prom wasn’t just a dance, though, as the weekend was full of other engaging educational activities and presentations from guest speakers. With this year’s theme being “Wild West,” events included “Rounding Up the Cattle,” where students collected runaway cows and transported them to the ranch, while also working together to build a fence to hold the cattle. Another activity tasked students with not being trampled by “buffalos.” Students became “human cranes” and worked to move goods to different locations. Students also worked together on building a water tower, with the tower containing the most water winning the event.
One of Kendziorski’s favorite activities, and one of the events he led for students, was disc golf. He brought several frisbee golf discs, and demonstrated the sport to students. With his encouragement and leadership, WSD students had a fatnastic time playing the sport. Kendziorski has played disc golf for many years, and previously collaborated with WSD to install six baskets/chains on the school campus for students to play at their leisure.
This year’s prom weekend had an added community service component, in which students performed yard work at homes around the WSD campus, and also on campus. As a group, students raked leaves, picked up sticks and trash, planted flowers, and pulled weeds for those who have difficulty doing so because of their health.
“We broke groups into teams, and those teams went to different homes,” Eldred said. “Because everyone has different abilities and skills, they were able to support each other without adults telling them what to do. Everyone helped each other to get the job done.”
In addition to helping those in the community, Quest provided students a chance to learn about leadership, advocacy, communication and much more.
“We wanted to give students an opportunity to give back to the school and learn how to become leaders; it’s invaluable,” Kendziorski said. “These students are going to graduate and go out into the world, and they need to know how to give back to their community. We learn from older staff that as generations move on, those students go on and become staff themselves. We want to continue that and don’t want that to stop.”
For Eldred, her favorite part of the weekend was feeling like a new family had been built at the conclusion.
“Everybody was so connected, there was such a camaraderie between the students,” she said. “I honestly felt like we were one big family and we were all connected. I went to prom with the kids, I dressed up, we danced together, everyone felt like a big family. This event is so heartwarming for me.”
Kendziorski said the prom/Quest weekend was self-fulfilling for him after being in the shoes of many current students.
“A lot of students have to adjust,” he said. “Looking at what I’ve learned over the years, and what we’re teaching students for Quest, I am seeing the things that I didn’t receive that we are able to give to students. I will never be satisfied, though. I want to keep going. I want them to have these skills and life experiences.”
About the Wisconsin School for the Deaf
The WSD is the only residential school for deaf and hard of hearing students in Wisconsin. The school operates under the direction of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and provides educational services for deaf and hard of hearing students ages 3 through 21. The WSD’s mission is to provide a unique ASL/English bilingual-bicultural environment by preparing students to achieve their maximum potential and become successful citizens of the future.