KANKAKEE — Prom is back on for Kankakee High School juniors and seniors following the year of COVID-19 cancellations, and organizers are working to make the night special as the May 22 date approaches.
However, students report having mixed feelings ahead of the dance’s return.
This year’s prom is being held in downtown Kankakee in effort to provide students with space to spread out and to avoid potential gathering restrictions at traditional venues.
Prom has been held locally in the past, but the downtown location and format will be new.
The 2019 prom was held in Chicago for the first time. Plans to return to Chicago in 2020 — or have any sort of prom at all — were squashed due to the pandemic.
For the 2021 prom, the DJ and dance floor will be set up outside of the downtown Kankakee train depot, with food and beverages to be served inside. The fourth floor of Kankakee Public Library will also be open for students to walk over and enjoy music at a softer volume.
Last week, the Kankakee City Council approved street closures for prom night; East Merchant Street will be closed from the fountain to South Schuyler Avenue from 3 to 9 p.m. May 22.
Junior student council members are involved in organizing prom; the tradition is that the junior class gives prom to the senior class as a gift.
Tia Rogers, junior class president, said she did not feel initially that she wanted to attend prom, but she will be going because of her leadership role in the school.
While students who bought tickets early have shown excitement, some of Rogers’ other classmates don’t want to attend because of the location, she said.
She doesn’t anticipate the event will be as highly attended as a typical prom.
“COVID has like, messed up a lot of stuff,” Rogers said.
Reflecting on the past school year, Rogers admitted things have been difficult; she struggled to find motivation to do homework while learning from home, and her cheerleading team didn’t get to compete due to cases of COVID-19.
Despite her own hesitancy, Rogers said she would encourage her classmates on the fence about prom to go.
“We don’t know when COVID is going to end, or if it’s ever going to go away, which means this could be one of the only times that my class could possibly have a prom, considering COVID is always up and down,” she said. “So I would say just do it.”
Assistant Principal Jennifer Hartmann, who works with the junior class, said students’ reactions to prom have been varied.
“It depends who you talk to,” she said. “Some students are extremely excited and happy about the opportunity. Some students are understandably a little disappointed that it’s not a traditional [prom]. They don’t want to wear a mask necessarily, but they are excited about the opportunity to have the prom.”
Hartmann said prom planning began shortly before Christmas. The idea for a downtown Kankakee prom came from community members.
“We weren’t sure what kind of restrictions there might be at venues, but we decided that if we wanted to guarantee we could have prom, we would have to keep it local,” Hartmann said.
Once vendors and caterers were solidified, the prom was officially a go. Tickets went on sale before spring break and are still available in the front lobby of the high school between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Students can fill out a guest form to bring a guest from another school or a different grade level.
“The junior class council has been working really hard to make it as special and as memorable as they can,” Hartmann said.
Hartmann said the students looking forward to prom are excited for the same reasons as always — they want the experience and to get dressed up and take pictures.
“There’s been challenges, but I think for our kids, it’s going to be like once in a lifetime,” she said. “It might not be packed, but I think it’s going to be really special.”
Alyssa Hecke, English teacher and junior class sponsor, said some schools have reached out to ask about the logistics of hosting a prom this year.
“I’m excited we’re able to have a prom, due to the circumstances, at all,” she said. “I know that a lot of schools aren’t able to.”
Hecke also noted that teachers have been enthusiastic about signing up to chaperone.
“The staff is excited to provide some level of normalcy for our students again,” she said. “Same with our vendors, DJ and caterer. They are so glad to see kids being able to enjoy these types of things again.”
Hecke noted that, for the senior class that was unable to attend prom as juniors, this really is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“You only get one prom,” she said.