By Debbie Kelley • Updated: May 16, 2015 at 6:28 am
Sierra High School students were on their feet, stomping, clapping and whooping at last week’s assembly for seniors.
The most popular Prom Court couple had walked toward each other from opposite ends of the gym, met in the center, held hands and faced their peers
“The building was shaking. I’ve never heard our student body cheer for anything so loudly,” said teacher Jesse Smith.
The pair that caused such a frenzy were seniors Johnny Daniel, who has cerebral palsy, and Paige Steffonich, who has Down syndrome.
“The look on their faces brought smiles to the student body from ear to ear,” said Sierra student Zac Biacan, who is on the Junior Prom Council. “I loved that.”
Sierra’s prom is Saturday night. Johnny and Paige are vying against two other male and two other female students for the titles of prom king and queen. Students vote for their favorite.
There’s no question Johnny and Paige will win, said Smith, who teaches special-needs students at the Harrison District 2 school.
“Based on the volume of cheering we heard, it was pretty obvious who would be the most popular,” he said. “It’s a testament to our student body being really supportive of our special-needs students. They’re very inclusive.”
Maggie Jackson, senior class sponsor and an English teacher, said the reaction at the assembly was completely “unsolicited.”
“They got the biggest round of applause, and it was amazing,” she said, adding that it was so moving, she started crying.
“It doesn’t surprise me one bit that this is happening and that the kids have been so enthusiastic, generous and kind about it because that’s what they’re like every day,” Jackson said.
Some students, including Zac, tutor special-needs students.
“They have great personalities,” he said of Johnny and Paige. “They haven’t gotten much recognition through the years, and having them on court is like the perfect cherry on top of their senior year.”
The Senior Prom Council approved the idea of nominating Johnny and Paige for the Prom Court ballot after a security guard and paraprofessional who work at Sierra suggested it.
“We talked about how cool that would be,” Smith said, “and students agreed.”
The sisters of Johnny and Paige will escort them to the prom. Paige picked out a candy apple red dress from the school’s stash of donated prom dresses, and Johnny rented a tuxedo.
If, by the slim chance that Johnny and Paige don’t win the popular student vote for prom king and queen, they will be crowned co-queen and co-king, Jackson said.
Both say they like to dance, and after they’re crowned Saturday night, they will take to the floor for the royal dance.
“He’s got some good moves,” Smith said about Johnny’s dancing abilities.
Using her iPad to communicate, Paige said she’s excited about the prom.
“Paige loves showing off her dress,” Smith said.
Radio station 92.9 Peak FM donated a makeup and hair styling for Paige, as well as a corsage and boutonniere and dinner for the couple.
Johnny will wear a red tie to match Paige’s dress. He’s familiar with ties because he’s worked as the manager of the boys’ basketball team, which requires dressing up for home games. He’s also a successful competitive weightlifter.
Paige is not mainstreamed, but she knows classmates because she and Johnny deliver teachers beverages from the student-run coffee shop.
Both attracted a lot of high-fives from teachers and other students as they walked through the hallways on Thursday, their last day of class, with many people congratulating them and asking if they were ready for prom.
“They’re two great students,” Zac said.