Sophomore with Down syndrome named class homecoming queen

Meet sophomore homecoming queen Alana Schwartz.  She is 17 years old and a sophomore.  She has Down syndrome, a mild case, which means that while she has a learning disability, she doesn’t have any of the heart problems associated with the condition.

One day Alana was sitting in front of sophomore Sam Bremmer on the bus.  Alana was singing and having fun as usual.

“I wondered how she would react if she were homecoming queen,” Bremmer said.

This is why Bremmer decided to do something special for Alana.

Bremmer emailed student council adviser Al Snider in August to make sure Alana would be on the ballot when it came time to vote for homecoming court in the fall.

“She emailed me basically saying, ‘I know homecoming is usually a popularity contest, but I think it should be more than that,’” Snider said.

Once school started, Snider met with Bremmer and told her that Alana would have to receive votes in order to be on court, like any other student.

According to Snider, Bremmer said, “Well, what can I do to make that happen?”

Snider and Bremmer started brainstorming until Bremmer came up with the idea of making a Facebook page.  Not long after its creation on Sept. 10, over 700 Facebook users were invited to the “Alana Schwartz For Homecoming Queen” Facebook page.

Diana Schwartz, Alana’s mother, first found out about the campaign when she saw the posts on Facebook.

“At first I thought, ‘No, it can’t be.  Is this a joke or something?’ But then I kept reading and realized it was real.  It brought tears to my eyes.”

A few weeks later, the balloting began.

Within the sophomore class, there were 12 groups of 20 ballots.

“Typically, a person gets three or four votes, within a group of 20,” Snider said.  “Alana was getting 13, 14, 15 votes out of a group of 20.”

According to Snider, Alana received about 250 votes out of 300 sophomores.

When Diana heard about her daughter’s victory she was ecstatic.

“It’s very touching that the school, and the sophomore class especially, wanted to do this for Alana,” Diana said.  “It just really touched our hearts.”

Alana remained unaware of Bremmer’s campaigning until the day court was announced.

“It was really hard to keep this from Alana,” Diana said with a laugh.  “It was really hard to pretend that nothing had happened, but we did it somehow.”

On Friday Sept. 27, the administration, Alana’s mom and sister came with Snider to see Alana’s reaction when he told her that she had been voted homecoming queen of the sophomore class.

Snider explained to Alana what she would have to do the week of homecoming as queen, including walking at halftime of the football game and riding in a car in the parade.

“The whole time she was very receptive to it.  She didn’t overreact,” Snider said.

“Until I walked away,” he added with a grin.

Once Alana turned around, she was so excited she jumped into her mom’s arms.

“It was a very special and touching moment,” Diana said.

Bremmer said she was “blown away” when Snider told her the news.

“I started crying when I heard, and then Mr. Snider pulled me out of class to tell me, and I started crying again,” Bremmer said.  “I was just so excited. I couldn’t even think straight.”

At the homecoming football game, it was Bremmer who escorted Alana, sophomore homecoming queen.

“This has been a very happy, positive experience,” said Diana.  “Because of her special needs, we didn’t think anything like this could have happened to Alana.”

This event has brought significant media attention to Dexter.  In the week following Alana’s victory, the story was covered by publications such as The Dexter Leader and mlive.com.

According to Diana, this can be a learning opportunity for those who have made fun of kids with special needs in the past.

“This will teach young people that kids with special needs have feelings too, and they need to experience the good things in life,” Diana said.  “These kids don’t get opportunities like this very often, and when they do, it’s a very special occasion.”

Students wish they could go elsewhere for lunch

He would escape if he could, but he’s stuck there like he is every other day. Just dreaming of what it would be like if he were allowed to leave.

Chicken sandwich, some fries and a milk all make it onto the tray. Same options as every other day of the week.

Still thinking of all the other foods out there that he could have, junior Scott VandenHeuvel carries his food out to his table where he can sit and talk to his friends.

“There’s more stuff out in town than the school can provide,” Scott said. “The school needs more variety.”

One way to provide this variety would be to have an open-campus lunch. Supports say this system would allow students more options to choose what they want to eat and give them more freedom, but some feel the safety risks outweigh the benefits.

Math teacher Brian Baird said, “We have to be careful with protecting young adults. That’s our job: safety and security.”

There’s always the option on putting limits on who can leave, such as basing it off of grade point average, but for Baird it’s all or nothing.

“Teenagers don’t make the best decisions, even with a longer time frame. Ten percent would ruin it for the other 90 percent,” he said.

Baird also said when leaving the school, students are faced with the risks and pressures of drinking or smoking, car troubles and accidents.

“As a teacher I couldn’t live with that,” he said.

Senior Amelia Sadler agrees that an open-campus lunch would cause problems. But sshe sees it as more of an educational issue.

Sadler said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea at all. A longer lunch results in a longer school day, and it’s also environmentally negligent.”

Allowing students to go out for lunch, she said, would give them the opportunity to skip classes after. It’d be easy for a student to go out and not come back for the afternoon.

“A majority would not bother to get back in time,” she said.

But junior Brian Darr disagrees. “Eventually it wouldn’t be a problem,” he said.

But for Baird, the safety of students should be a priority in school along with their education. An open campus could jeopardize both of these.

“Maybe we have to offer more (food) options in the building,” he said.

But for Scott, it’d be easier to just go out into town for his lunch. But until then he’s stuck in the same lunch room every day knowing that there’s only so much the school can do.

District works to update security

After the shooting in Newtown, Conn. schools across the country have dealt with ways to make buildings safer for students. Dexter is no exception.

According to Principal Kit Moran Dexter not only focuses on shooting security but also fire and tornado safety. If there’s a fire, doors can auto-lock to stop the fire from spreading. And if there’s a shooter trying to come into the building he said the secretaries in the office looking for people who enter the building unauthorized are the first line of defense.

Moran said, “The ladies in the front office really do a great job of looking for visitors. If somebody enters the building without signing in, they’ll stop em’.”

Even if a person does get by the office, Moran said there are over 120 cameras to locate the person. Deputy Jeremy Hilobuk has two large monitors in his office that cover not only the high school, but all schools in the district.

In addition, Hilobuk said in order to upgrade district security, all teachers, counselors and administration will have to go through a safety course in case a shooter does enter the building.

“It will take a while to have all of the administration trained, but I do think it will protect the school,” he said, adding that the training will consist of alerting teachers about how to handle intruders with weapons..

But while security training to stop an outside shooter is in progress, what if a student has a weapon? Hilobuk said that now, if a staff member is concerned or know that a student is having troubles and might be violent, they let a school counselor know. The counselor will follow up with the student’s parents/guardians to see what the issue is.

But what if there are weapons in their house that the child has access to? Dexter takes full precaution to this issue, Hilobuk said. In fact Moran said Hilobuk has visited students’ houses when a concern like this is raised.

“We have had a few instances where Hilobuk had to go to the families house to check on the family,” Moran said. “The school protects its students without making them feel they have no freedom. It’s kind of a freedom-order issue. We don’t want the students feeling they’re under lockdown, but we do want them to feel safe.”

An open gate with an open heart

In his typical purple and yellow Lions Club polo and hat, Louie Ceriani pumps up players, parents and fans of Dexter sports on a regular basis. In his 85th year of living in Dexter, Ceriani has continually supported Dexter in everything he does.

About 30 years ago the Dexter Lions Club started to raise money to offer scholarships to students and volunteer in the Dexter community, especially in athletics. The Lion’s Club was asked by the late Al Ritt to help volunteer at football games. Ceriani, a member from the start of it,  just wanted to have one, important job at the games.

“Al Ritt asked the Lions Club to help with the football and of course we agreed,” Ceriani said. “I said I wanted the gate for when the players come out and onto the field and give them a little ra ra and a smack on the butt as they roll through to wish them luck. That’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want anything else but to just do that for the players.”

Years later, former football coach Tom Barbieri recognized Ceriani’s passion and honored him by officially naming the entrance gate for the players, “Louie’s Gate.”

“Louie is all about community,” Barbieri said. “Louie was a person you could go to if players needed money for football camps. He’s always made the players proud to play for Dexter.”

Ceriani said his passion for Dexter stems especially from the fact that he’s lived here almost his entire life. He moved to Dexter in 1928. Eighty-five years ago. He’s currently 86. Between being 18 months old and 13 years old Ceriani had 12 operations due do birth defects. While he doesn’t still have symptoms of these problems, he still has visible scars from them.

“I came to Dexter when I was 15 months old,” he said.  “I was placed in a foster home just outside of Dexter. I was separated from my family because I had health conditions where I had to go to the hospital for a series of operations. At point before the operations the doctor said I would never be able to walk. But here I am.”

When Ceriani was in high school at Dexter, he was the manager of the football, basketball and baseball teams. In 1946, Ceriani’s senior year, Dexter football went unbeaten and un-scored-upon while tying one game with Brighton 0-0. And it’s Ceriani’s passion for Dexter football that’s even more enhanced by his own experiences at DHS.

“This job means everything to me,” he said. “If I couldn’t be here, I’d be lost. Even if I don’t know the players, it just seems to be a part of me with football and basketball. The camaraderie with the players and also the people as they walk by. Maybe the biggest thrill I get is when a former player comes back and comes up and shakes my hand. They could be out of school 10 or 12 years, and they still know who I am.”

But Ceriani says the best part is just being a part of it all.

“Just being here,” he said. “Being part of the crowd and the game. Hear all that hollering and screaming and hoping we make a touchdown. That’s the best part.”

Ceriani doesn’t just support football with loads of passion. He’s shown full support to other sports including basketball. Current Athletic Director and long-time women’s basketball coach, Mike Bavineau said Ceriani is vital to his women’s basketball team and Dexter Athletics as a whole.

“He’s our super fan,” Bavineau said. “He came to every women’s game this year and before every game he came up to each girl and give them a little pep talk and to beat the opponent that they were facing. He’s really done a lot for athletics in Dexter, and that’s why he’s so looked up to and admired by our student athletes.”

And Ceriani said he loves everything about the town.

“Like football, it means everything to me,” he said. “I’ve never wanted to leave. Maybe one day my health will get bad, and I’ll have to go into a home or something. But I don’t want to think about that. I want to live today. Tomorrow will come.”

Dexter Lion’s Club, in its 34th year of operation as a volunteer and community service organization in Dexter, has also been a big part of Ceriani’s life. In fact, he’s never missed a meeting.

“One of the biggest things we’re proud of is our $1,000 scholarship that we offer to future college students at Dexter,” Ceriani said. (High school students can fill out applications for the $1,000 scholarship on dexterlions.org.)

Dexter Lion Michael Scott said that Ceriani is very dedicated to his community and it shows through his constant volunteering and selflessness.

“Louie Ceriani is known in the village of Dexter as a friend many can turn to,” Scott said.  “As part of the Dexter Lions, Lion Lou embodies all that our club and community aspires to be. His generosity, kindness and selflessness touch many yet he expects nothing in return. Whenever there needs to be a volunteer, extra set of hands, you name it, Louie’s there always with a smile on his face. He has the biggest heart than anyone I’ve known. Not many people stretch themselves as far for the health, happiness and welfare of this community.”