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A prom to remember in Yuba City
Moonwalking and dancing like a robot on Saturday night, Tonny Chatkara couldn't be happier.
"I can finally take the girl of my dreams to the prom," the 16-year-old said. "I'm trying to be a gentleman."
He and Renee Smith, 17, have known each other since junior high, but on Saturday night, they shared a first date and first dance at the Yuba City High School prom.
As most students hovered near tables and clustered in conversations, Tonny finally grabbed Renee's hand and pulled her onto the dance floor, dragging a few of their special education classmates with them.
The teens were soon shimmying and shaking, fancy hairdos bobbing and ties flapping as they lip-synched to their favorite songs.
"I'm having fun, so much," said Meliah Triplett, 19.
While prom is a special evening for any high-schooler, Tonny, Renee and Meliah don't often find themselves in a general education setting, but their teacher, Susan Fletcher, thinks it's important her special day class students share all milestones, regardless of their abilities.
She tries to ensure their attendance at school events, from football games to dances, and on Saturday night, she hosted 11 students in her backyard for a pre-prom dinner before whisking them away to the dance.
Watching as they joined more than 400 general education students in spinning one another in circles and waving their hands in the air, Fletcher could not help but smile.
"I tell them to come sit down and they say no. I tell him it's time to go home, and they say no," she said. "This is almost as good as graduation."
Kelsey Graham, 18, had spent 45 minutes getting ready for the dance. As her mother, Tammy Graham, twirled strands of hair into tight curls, Kelsey said her favorite part of last year's prom was the lights.
"I thought you told me you liked dancing with all the hot guys?" Tammy asked.
"That too," Kelsey said, her eyes twinkling.
Once her hair was perfectly pinned and magenta feathers dangled from the 'do, she waited patiently as her mother applied eyeshadow, mascara, lipstick and nail polish.
Finally, Kelsey was zipped into her dress — pink and black, her favorite colors, with skinny straps and a ruched bodice — and Tammy made the final touches.
"I feel like a princess," Kelsey said.
Students were soon mingling in Fletcher's backyard as mothers and fathers crowded around and embarrassed them as parents do, gushing about how great the teens looked and snapping pictures.
"Look at our kids, all grown up," said Ali Smith, beaming at her son, Matthew. "We made him pose like a million times. I already posted photos on Facebook.
Matthew Smith, 20, had picked out his bright blue vest and tie himself, added stylish shades and put breath spray in his pocket, just in case.
He, along with all the other boys, sported yellow and crimson boutonnieres and the girls wore white carnation corsages.
Last year, at Matthew's first prom, Ali Smith said emotions overwhelmed her.
"I dropped him off and went home and cried," she said. "I figured he would call me at 9 to pick him up. No, it was midnight, when the lights turned on, and they kicked him out."
Kelsey also loved last year's prom and came home twirling her shoes in her hand, her mother said.
"I'm just glad her teacher makes sure the kids get a full high school experience," Tammy said. "They are not just the kids in the corner classroom. They need to be included."
Parents were eventually sent on their way so the teens could enjoy the evening on their own. The students lingered over dinner, laughing and teasing one another and practicing their dance moves.
Melissa Diaz, who is Fletcher's classroom aide during second period, said the students have been talking about prom for weeks and she was honored to share dinner with them.
"I love these kids," she said. "The girls want to get their groove on and get girlied up. I feel like a proud mother right now. They take my breath away."