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BOCES special-needs students enjoy posh prom in Baiting Hollow

Students from Eastern Suffolk BOCES Westhampton Beach Learning

Students from Eastern Suffolk BOCES Westhampton Beach Learning Center sing along to Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" with their family and teachers on Thursday, May 15, 2014, at Giorgio's in Baiting Hollow as their prom draws to a close. Credit: Tara Conry

The dance floor at Giorgio’s in Baiting Hollow was packed Thursday night as about 60 students from Eastern Suffolk BOCES Westhampton Beach Learning Center celebrated their prom.

In the center, student Sarah Reith, 18, danced around in a circle to “Sweet Caroline,” while some of her peers and teachers changed the lyrics to “Sweet Sarah.” The joy was evident on her face, even though she couldn’t express it in words.

“She just loves music, loves to dance,” said Reith’s mother, Arlene, who adopted her when she was a baby.

Arlene Reith, 65, said that her daughter was born with Down syndrome, and because she also is autistic, she is non-verbal.

But on a night like this, Sarah Reith and her schoolmates, all of whom have special needs, are able to experience a prom just like any other teenager.

Four years ago, Westhampton Beach Learning Center moved its prom from the school’s gym to Giorgio’s, a family-owned catering hall that usually hosts lavish weddings.

Giorgio’s co-owner George Regini said his family works with the school to host the event at a discounted price, and his staff accommodates any of their needs.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” Regini said. “It’s great to see them have a great time.”

The school also fundraises throughout the year to keep the costs down, so the students can bring their families with them.

Michelle Tinter, a special education aid for WBLC, said it gives the families a unique night out.

“A lot of these families are not able to take their children to weddings, because they’re not always able to handle the situations that may come with loud music and crowds,” she said. “Here, it’s a no-judgment zone. They can enjoy themselves with no worries.”

While watching the scene play out on the dance floor, Arlene Reith said there was a certain energy in the room, and she was grateful her daughter could have the full prom experience.

“To keep a positive life for Sarah is going to make her lead a fuller life,” she said. “And that’s what we want to do for all our children.”

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