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See how teens from six U.S. high schools celebrated prom in a pandemic

Lindsay Patross

Prom(ish) premiers on Very Local on October 7 at 9 pm

Prom(ish) features teens in six different U.S. cities to see how the pandemic has shaped their lives in unique ways, all in the lead-up to prom night. It highlights the different ways in which schools were holding prom, or in many cases due to COVID-19 restrictions, not holding it at all. From a parent-organized prom at a hotel ballroom to an outdoor prom, to one held at Heinz Field, Prom-ish captures this coming of age night and tells the story of a generation that has lived through the most challenging global health crisis in a lifetime.

Inspired by Katy Perry

Celebration High School // Celebration, Florida 

Eighteen-year-old Brandon Boulton is a senior at Celebration High School in Celebration, Florida. In February 2020, after living in the closet as a young gay man, Brandon finally came out to his mother, only to have to go into isolation weeks later after the spread of COVID-19 across the U.S. Brandon’s dream is to be a Disney cast member and is obsessed with pop sensation Katy Perry. Since Brandon stepped foot at Celebration High School four years ago, he’s been looking forward to prom, an event traditionally held at Disney’s Epcot theme park. After the school district canceled prom, a group of moms decided to organize a prom event at a local hotel. It’s not Epcot, but it’s something. Brandon shares his hopes of performing to a Katy Perry song on prom night. He’s had his outfit planned for over a year and, despite the craziest year he’s ever experienced, he’s determined not to let the pandemic kill his teenage dreams.

Coaching track through COVID-19

G.W. Carver High School // New Orleans, LA

Lawrence Lambert and Michael Colon are G.W. Carver High School star track athletes located in one of the toughest neighborhoods in New Orleans, the Ninth Ward. For Lawrence and Michael, running track is their outlet and escape. Their coach, Kenneth White, is a father-figure to them and sees track as their path to a brighter future. When COVID-19 hit and their school went into remote learning, Coach White was able to keep track going to maintain some

consistency in their lives. Both Lawrence and Michael dream of being the first ones in their families to attend college. They want to be role models to their younger siblings as well as to others. After Lawrence and Michael both place in the State Championships and get accepted to colleges, Coach White, who the boys affectionately refer to as “Pop,” takes them to pick out tuxes for their prom. For them, prom is a night to celebrate challenges overcome and the possibilities ahead.

Getting involved from home & a backyard surprise

C.K. McClatchy High School // Sacramento, CA

When schools returned to in-person learning after nearly a year, C.K. McClatchy junior Alyssa Yuke, like many Asian Americans, decided to remain in remote learning from home. She and her parents were hyper-vigilant about social distancing and Alyssa didn’t feel fully comfortable being amongst so many people. While young people were gathering, masked, in small groups, Alyssa rarely saw any friends. Not only was Alyssa fearful of contracting COVID-19, she started to become fearful of the rising hate and violence against Asian Americans. At the same time, Alyssa found her voice. She found herself joining the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders group at school and participating in Zoom chats with her friends about anti-Asian hate issues. In many ways, the pandemic forced her to face her fears and find hope even during the darkest of times.

After more than a year of self-isolating, Alyssa decides it’s time to organize a small gathering with a handful of friends for a “backyard prom” for which she designs the invites and outlines the safety protocol. Little does she know, her parents have a surprise planned for her.

Pandemic protesting and staying on track 

Penn Hills High School // Pittsburgh, PA

Penn Hills High School seniors Alyssa Isanhart and Isaiah Williams were both on the valedictorian track when the pandemic forced them into remote learning. Alyssa spiraled into a deep depression and her grades slipped to the point at which she almost didn’t graduate. Many family members contracted COVID-19 including her beloved great-grandmother who ultimately succumbed to the virus. Isaiah, who was once an active member of the school marching band, also found himself isolated from peers and teachers and taking antidepressants. His close-knit family was hit especially hard by COVID-19 with the deaths of three aunts in less than six months. With the support of teachers, school staff and family, both Alyssa and Isaiah came through their depression. Inspired by his older sister and the effects of the pandemic, Isaiah found a renewed sense of purpose to enter a career in public health after college. After a traumatic year, Alyssa is especially excited for prom, reconnecting with friends, and experiencing a small sense of normalcy in the final days of senior year.

Prioritizing grandpa before prom

Skutt Catholic High School // Omaha, NE

Abbie Mann, a senior at Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, is known as a natural leader among her teachers and peers and is active in volunteer work and cheerleading. Raised by a single mom, Abby is especially close to her grandfather. When the pandemic forced her school to shut down in March 2020, Abby pivoted to remote learning but like many teens found it isolating. Nevertheless, she was determined to prioritize her grandfather’s wellbeing and even stopped seeing her boyfriend for several months in order to keep her grandfather safe. As the pandemic eased, Abby is finally able to celebrate those senior year milestones like prom with her biggest fan–grandpa–beaming proudly by her side.

Petitioning the school board to save prom

Concord High School Concord, NH

At Concord High School in New Hampshire, student body president Niyanta Nepal and her classmates saw the writing on the wall — prom, like so many other senior events, was in jeopardy of being canceled. Niyanta and her student body peers sprung into action to try to save their prom. They put together an extensive prom presentation based on the latest COVID-19 protocols and took their case to the School Board. After being questioned by board members, the board votes in favor of allowing students to hold prom at Concord High. It was a small victory in an otherwise tumultuous year, but one that these students will most surely never forget.

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