Wilde Lake High School senior Bridget Tiffey had been dreaming about her prom all year.
The thought of dancing with her classmates and friends and dressing up in a beautiful gown was the perfect way to end her last year in high school, she said.
However, when she learned that the Howard County Public School System had canceled proms for a second year in a row due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, she was disappointed that her dream would not be a reality.
Soon after parents of county students learned of the prom cancellations, many banded together to plan their own parent-sponsored formals for their students.
“I felt very special that we were able to have something like this and that our parents felt the need to really make us feel special, too,” said Tiffey, 17.
She was one of 140 Wilde Lake High students who attended the parent-sponsored prom at Forest Hill Swim and Tennis Club in Ellicott City on May 15.
Dressed in formal wear, she, her classmates and friends enjoyed the food, photo booth and prizes the parents had planned in celebration of their senior year.
Amy Churilla, of Columbia, is one of the parents who helped plan the prom.
After planning several other successful events for seniors, she and other parents at the high school decided to plan their own prom to celebrate their students who had already missed out on so much due to the pandemic.
The prom came together through a planning committee that was formed through email and social media groups.
Parents were asked to donate money or volunteer time to help book and rent the venue and tend to the other details involved in planning the event.
Churilla, whose daughter Abby is a senior at Wilde Lake, said the parents wanted to plan the prom for their students to give them a sense of normalcy after enduring a difficult senior year.
“The prom is something that a lot of people look forward to, and a lot of these students that are seniors missed out on a prom their junior year, as well,” Churilla said. “It was really about providing them with a special memory of high school that we felt that they deserved and had not had an opportunity to get.”
Like Wilde Lake, a parent-sponsored formal also was held for students at Reservoir High School at Bleues on the Water in Glen Burnie on May 18.
Outfitted in colorful gowns and sleek suits and tuxedos, the students paired their elegant ensembles with protective face masks.
Reservoir senior Janna Hall, 18, attended the formal in a blue floor-length dress with beading and jewels on the top and a slit down the side.
Unable to wear the dress to her junior prom after it was canceled last year, she said she had been waiting for the opportunity to wear it to her senior formal.
“I had already gotten my dress for junior prom and it didn’t end up happening, which I was really sad about,” Hall said. “Luckily, the [Parent Teacher Student Association] realized that we really wanted a prom and a good, fun senior event [where] we could dress up and do fun stuff and dance and things like that. So they threw one and I was really happy that I got to live out my senior dream and dress all fancy with my friends.”
Hall’s mother, Michelle Wineberg, of Laurel, has served as president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Reservoir High for three years.
As a part of her role, she traditionally helps plan “after-prom,” a substance-free event following the school-sponsored prom that aims to prevent students from drinking and driving.
Once the association received word that the school-sponsored prom was canceled, the group pivoted from planning an after-prom to a parent-sponsored formal.
While planning the formal, parents visited a number of venues that offered outdoor space and room for social distancing to provide a healthy and safe environment for the students.
Wineberg said parents wanted to plan the formal because it is a “rite of passage.”
“[Prom] is an event that marks their entrance into young adulthood and the end of high school and the beginning of college and career,” she said. “We just wanted them to have that closing of their senior year and be able to celebrate with their friends and peers and give them a little bit of etiquette and culture before they start their adult years.”
At least two other high schools in the county held parent-sponsored celebrations last month, including Mt. Hebron High School on May 5 and Oakland Mills High School on May 15.
Another parent-sponsored prom will be held for students at Atholton High School at Overhills Mansion in Catonsville on June 4.
The prom, which will have a Roaring 1920s theme, will have activities inside the mansion and outdoors in a covered tent and will include games, hors d’oeuvres, a photo booth, prizes and raffles.
Crystal Werner, of Columbia, is one of the parents planning the prom.
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So far, 120 students plan to attend and $4,930 toward a goal of $5,000 has been raised through a GoFundMe campaign, she said.
Werner, who is a mother of four — including Justin, a senior at Atholton — said it is necessary for the students to have a prom because it gives them an opportunity to come together after spending their senior year apart.
“We didn’t want these kids to be the only group of kids in memory to not have a way to celebrate the end of four years of hard work and being able to see each other in some way, and a prom certainly seemed like a fun way to do that,” she said.
Atholton senior Mia Lazzari, 18, who plans to attend the prom, said she is excited to spend the evening celebrating with friends.
“[I look forward to] being able to finally celebrate being a senior with all of my friends and not having to worry about COVID restrictions as much because I can just have fun and not worry about being restricted with school regulations and stuff like that,” Lazzari said.
André Richmond, 18, too, is looking forward to attending the Atholton prom this year.
“I appreciate the opportunity that we get now because usually you think that anybody can go to prom or that prom is not a big deal,” Richmond said. “But when something like this [happens], you realize it’s basically a privilege to go and when somebody planned it outside the school, you appreciate it more.”