Feature stories

Ready for prom

UFT helps thousands of students get all dressed up for their big event

Nearly 4,000 8th-graders and high school seniors will be decked out for end-of-year celebrations thanks to eight UFT prom events held throughout the city in April and May.

Pelham Academy of Academics and Community Engagement teacher Mona Parkinson makeMiller PhotographyPelham Academy of Academics and Community Engagement teacher Mona Parkinson makes sure the gown fits just right. Teacher Jimmy Frederic of MS 582, Brooklyn, adjusts a student’s tie.Miller PhotographyTeacher Jimmy Frederic of MS 582, Brooklyn, adjusts a student’s tie.

“It’s awesome,” said Jasmine Dickson, a science teacher who accompanied students from MS 224 in Mott Haven to the prom event at the UFT’s Bronx borough office on May 4. “Some kids were apprehensive. They didn’t think they’d find something here, but they did.”

Teacher Bibiana Rodriguez and students from MS 582, Brooklyn.Miller PhotographyTeacher Bibiana Rodriguez and students from MS 582, Brooklyn.

At each prom event, students — sometimes alone, sometimes with parents, and sometimes accompanied by a teacher or school counselor — swarmed the racks of gowns and suits. Students also had their pick of shoes, ties, makeup, costume jewelry and other accessories. Some 6,000 gowns and 1,000 suits donated by UFT members and local businesses were distributed in all, as well as 60 free tuxedo rentals. Fifty mothers got dresses to attend their kids’ graduations as well.

The eight UFT events — two each in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan and one in Queens and the Bronx — were organized and hosted by the UFT, in collaboration with the Long Island Volunteer Center and the Prom King Organization. Women in Need (WIN), one of the city’s largest providers of services to homeless women, provided gowns to students living in homeless shelters. To sort the clothing before the events, the UFT employed 100 adults through Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities.

Brooklyn students swarm the racks.Brooklyn students swarm the racks.

“It’s so important,” said Fay Housen, an English teacher at Wings Academy who was chaperoning 12 of her students at the Bronx event. “It helps build self-esteem.”

“It’s a rite of passage for them,” said Mona Parkinson, a special education teacher at Pelham Academy of Academics and Community Engagement, a middle school in the Allerton section of the Bronx. “It’s a good way to celebrate leaving middle school and say it’s OK. They’re eager and ready to start the next chapter.”

Students walked a little taller in their new finery, whether it was a snappy tailored suit or a sequined gown. Many posed for photos with each other and their teachers.

Teacher A.J. Gjikola of MS 582, Brooklyn, approves of the bow-tie selection.Teacher A.J. Gjikola of MS 582, Brooklyn, approves of the bow-tie selection.

UFT prom coordinator Adriana O’Hagan said, “We were able to create memories for thousands of students and support disabled adults. There is no doubt we are union strong!”

The UFT’s Kathleen Guilbert, who worked side by side with O’Hagan, said all the hard work by a team of UFT staff citywide was distilled for her “when the first student stepped out of a dressing room in a beautiful green gown and exclaimed, ‘This is my dress!’”

Linda Rodriguez accompanied her daughter Natasha, an 8th-grader at MS 227, to the event at the UFT Queens Borough Office. “As a single mother on a very tight budget, it would have been impossible for my daughter to attend the prom if it wasn’t for the efforts of this program,” Rodriguez said. “Not only did my daughter find a dress but they also allowed me to get one so I could attend her graduation ceremony.”

Mailine Santiago, a school secretary at Pan American International HS in Queens,Mailine Santiago, a school secretary at Pan American International HS in Queens, holds the mirror for a student.

Melody Davis, a literacy teacher and chapter leader at PS/IS 268 in Jamaica, Queens, said many of her 8th-graders initially didn’t want to attend the Grade 8 dinner dance because of the expense. The UFT Queens Borough Office Prom Boutique on April 20 changed their minds.

“The students were super-excited and appreciative,” said Davis. “During the boutique, one student came by to see me and said, ‘Thank you so much.’”

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