Social distancing has shown us that not all scholars are as included in their school culture as we think. As more traditional public schools are leaning on virtual learning, socialization can’t take a back seat. Students are naturally creating platforms for socialization. Socialization and student activities are essential aspects of the educational journey. Many of us are missing the opportunities to socially engage with one another; there are many other students who don’t get an opportunity on a regular basis to be engaged socially. We are missing the students who are not invited to social gatherings, including the prom. This population isn’t as small as we think.
Not every student is heartbroken over no prom this school year.
The prom and school dances are important school events. It is a time to celebrate culture, music, dance, crack jokes, take lots of photos, and have a good time. Prom season serves as a coming of age for many high school students. Teaching special education these last two years has shown me the difficulties that students who have special needs face in traditional public school settings. While many students are disappointed in being separated from their peers and the social interactions that shape the school year, there’s a population of scholars who don’t quite feel the same.
Perhaps the social distancing from the COVID-19 pandemic is helping us to rethink social, emotional learning and engagement in public schools.
Our students have been practicing social distancing with scholars who don’t fit the right labels of acceptance in schools. Imagine being the student with a speech impediment, birth defect, or learning disability that classifies them as “other” in public schools. Many of these students are distanced from their peers on a regular basis. During this school closure, I’ve been asking students what their thoughts are on social distancing and missing activities such as prom.
The question we have to ask ourselves is, are we missing a tradition in education for our students? Some students aren’t missing the hassle of getting ready from prom and the social pressures that come with it. The amount of money, time, and energy put into sending students to the prom could be money that parents are saving. Perhaps school leaders, teachers, and current students can take this time during social distancing to think about if our schools are really inclusive and think about how events like prom isolate and exclude some student and devise a plan to tackle this real issue .
The time away from traditional public school settings is bringing the need to improve social emotional learning programs to really tackle the issues that not only students are facing in schools but at home. The tradition of prom is great, but it often masks the true pressures of social acceptance that leaves students with bad memories. While we celebrate the great photos, music and good dancing, other issues such as underage drinking, poor sexual behaviors, bullying and teen suicides all increase. Prom signals the closing of the school year which can bring anxiety to students who are homeless, in transition homes, foster care, who have abusive parents or guardians and those who are neglected.
Prom season gives students who are socially accepted an outlet and opportunity to social gather. However, for those students who live in social distancing daily, it’s not the most exciting time of the year. Students in middle and high school battle rejection and social pressures that come with major social events such as prom. I am encouraging educators to rethink social activities in public schools. We need more ways we can be more inclusive in activities and lessons teaching social acceptance.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.