Kemptville, Ont. high school students raise funds to organize prom celebration

High school proms are an important part of graduation, a celebration for students as they enter their next stage.

For a group of Kemptville, Ont. high schoolers, their prom might never have been possible if they didn't step up to organize one.

"All throughout elementary school, middle school I was dreaming of a prom dress, dreaming of this big dance," said Grade 12 student Emma Colasante. "So when I heard that we weren't going to be able to do it possibly, I was kind of torn."

That was Colasante's reaction after she learned her school, North Grenville District High School (NGDHS), was opting out of helping to organize this year's event. 

"It takes a lot to build up four years of high school and hope you get something out of it with your graduation and your prom, and then taking something like that away it scared a lot of us for sure," added Abi Ansell, also graduating from NGDHS this year. 

So Grade 12 students and dedicated parents took on the challenge themselves, to help fundraise enough to hold a prom. 

"At first I didn't really know what to do," Colasante said. "I was always talking to Abi about it and we were like, should we start something? And we got a couple of girls together and we made a little prom committee group chat on social media."

"We just started to roll things together and start to plan for the fundraising," said Abi's mother Michelle. "I had already secretly been planning because I knew something might go awry with the pandemic, so I've been contacting caterers and I was contacting local halls and such."

When a school opts out of sanctioning a prom it means fundraising, like selling tickets, cannot be done on school property or with the help of school staff.

And it's nothing new according to the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB), which sent out a memo to schools ahead of prom season. 

"Prior to the pandemic, schools have always had the option of coordinating school sanctioned proms or non-sanctioned proms, which would be coordinated through parent groups and through the community," said Marsha McNair, UCDSB Superintendent of School Operations, Safe Schools and Equity & Inclusivity.

"Since for the last two years we have unfortunately not been able to have school events due COVID-19, we have sent out some communication to our schools to remind them of the difference from school sanctioned versus non-sanctioned events."

School sanctioned events means school staff would be helping coordinate the event, along with fundraising. The event could also happen on school property. 

"For non-school-sanctioned events, that means it's completely coordinated outside of the school by a group of parents or community members," McNair said. 

While NGDHS did not provide an explanation for opting out, McNair says it could be for a variety of reasons, and going forward high schools will continue to have that option.

For the prom committee, they took their fundraising into the community, beginning with a barbecue and a bottle drive. A hockey game fundraiser raised even more money with residents and local businesses pitching in.

"I got emails and e-transfers from people that don't even have students, just heard our story through social media," said Michelle. 

"A lot of our community members were really, really helpful," added Abi. "They were really sympathetic to hear about this story, the students trying to do it on their own, so a lot of community involvement, a lot of parent involvement. It really helped us a lot."

For the students and parents, their hard work has paid off to the tune of almost $10,000, making tickets cheap enough for everyone to possibly attend.

"It's looking right now it could be free or maybe not even $20," said Colasante. 

"It was a lot of late nights with Emma, 'guess how much money we raised?', and it was a 'holy smokes, like that's a lot of money!', so we are very fortunate," Abi said. 

The high school is now even reconsidering their stance on opting out, setting up a meeting with Michelle on Thursday.

"We are going to see what we can do to work together," she said. "The students, the teachers, the principal and the parents, so we can try and advertise through the school."

"Maybe we can sell tickets at the school because that was one of the sticking points was trying to get a hold of all the students because we don't have all their emails," she added.

"It was definitely kind of a little bit of weight off our shoulders to hear," Abi added. "We're not just having to sneak around anymore and we finally have their help which is really nice."

"We know all of the teachers wanted to support us all the long, but just to have them by our sides now is reassuring," she said. 

The prom committee said they are excited their plan is coming together, but also overwhelmed with all the community support.

"Honestly, I never would have thought we would raise this much money in this small town that we have here," Colasante said. 

"Just a big thank you to everybody involved," Abi added. "All of our peers, all of our parents, all of our community members, just everything. They are the reason this is happening."

"The biggest takeaway is don't always feel like you have to be quiet and let someone else deal with it," Abi said. "If you have an idea, step up. If you have something to say, step up and say it because your opinion is always going to be welcomed and that's what we've tried to do this whole time as well is just make everybody welcome and make everybody feel like their opinion matters."

"The girls have worked really hard," Michelle said proudly. "I just think that the best lesson is not to give up, keep trying and work hard."

The NGDHS Prom celebration is scheduled for June 4.