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HERSCHER — The pandemic has messed with a lot of people’s plans, but a group of determined students at Herscher High School were not about to let it take prom away for the second year in a row.

Tonight, about 185 juniors and seniors are expected to attend the 2021 Herscher High School prom — and wearing masks won’t be the only noticeable adjustment due to COVID-19.

Instead of the usual country club venue, the school district’s bus garage will be the scene where students dance the night away.

Principal Brad Elliot said a group of determined students were the driving force behind coming up with a plan to make prom work this year.

Students helped to brainstorm ideas for other events this year as well. Unable to host a homecoming dance, the school hosted a movie night on the football field.

Elliot said he would periodically go up to students during lunch and ask how their year was going and what the school could do to make it better. Inevitably, one of the responses was that students wanted a prom.

Elliot began talking with students about what guidelines would likely need to be followed to pull it off, and he brought their ideas back to the school board.

“The board said if you can meet those criteria, go ahead,” Elliot recalled. “And here we are.”

At the time a decision had to be made on a location, it did not seem like an indoor venue, like the country club, would be feasible.

Looking to bring prom outdoors, the school considered setting up a big tent in the school parking lot. With limited fundraising opportunities this year, that option seemed like it would be too costly.

“So we thought, what if we raised the doors of the bus garage?” he said. “It’s kind of like a huge, fancy tent. So that’s what we did.”

A prom committee was assembled, and plans came together within a five-week period. Elliot added that he hopes the night is successful and students enjoy themselves.

“They put a lot of work into it in a short amount of time,” he said. “I think they are just happy to have something normal.”

This past week, custodial crews worked to deep clean the garage in preparation for the dance. The bus garage, also called the bus barn, has about a dozen large overhead doors that will be raised to allow increased airflow and the option to mingle outdoors or indoors.

Tables and chairs are being brought into the garage, where there will be catering and a local DJ.

Students are able to bring guests from other schools with a permission slip. Masks will be required when mingling or dancing closely, but they can be removed when social distancing, taking photos or eating.

Dakota Jackson, a senior and member of the school’s prom committee, said her classmates seem excited for prom despite some disappointment about the change in venue.

“It’s been at the country club for as long as people remember, and this year we are having to have it on campus in the bus garage,” she said. “People I think are a little bit disappointed that they are not getting the full, traditional prom experience that we usually get, but I think people are still excited that we even are getting a prom at all.”

Earlier this week, Jackson, who is also National Honors Society president and cheerleading captain, was at a friend’s house putting together flower arrangements to bring to prom. She has heard others talking about what color dresses they plan to wear and getting their pictures taken.

“We’re having everything that the normal prom would have, it’s just in a different location,” she said.

Jackson also noted that, while some are excited for prom, others are probably overwhelmed by the sudden return of sports and events, and prom may be at the back of their minds.

Overall, Jackson feels her classmates are happy to have something in the realm of an end-of-year celebration, especially since winter ball and homecoming dances couldn’t happen.

“I wanted to make sure that, not just for me, but for everyone else, that prom could be something memorable, because it is the first thing we’ve gotten to do this year as a whole school,” she said.


Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.