Virtual prom continues tradition for Madonna Learning Center

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 26, 2020 6:55 PM CT | Published: April 26, 2020 5:39 PM CT

Canceling prom was not an option at Madonna Learning Center.

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Students in junior high, senior high, the adult program and some teachers look forward to an evening of dancing each year, and Madonna instructors wanted to make sure the celebration was held.

”We were going to have prom,” teachers agreed, according to Lisa Abart, the school’s marketing coordinator. “We were going to do something.”

Madonna usually holds a prom in late April, and the date crept closer before instructors realized. Recently much of their energy ensured instruction continued virtually during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Our teachers have been so busy teaching online,” Abart said. “Our teachers are working harder than they have ever worked.”

Planning a socially distanced prom came together quickly.

“We knew a virtual prom was the only way we could pull this off,” she added.

For many years, prom was held at Embassy Suites in East Memphis. Students enjoyed appetizers and pasta from Frank Grisanti’s Restaurant.

After eating, they danced. Sodas, snacks and refreshments were provided.

Parents were notified last week prom was not canceled, but the treasured time would be on Zoom. Teachers wanted to deliver some of the prom experience at home.

Students’ excitement built throughout the week, and Friday, Madonna teachers split up by ZIP code to pay students a socially distanced visit. 

They distributed goody bags with chips, soda, Mardi Gras beads and glow sticks — items they would usually have at the prom. Teachers also gave students signs with messages such as “You are the bomb. Can’t wait to see you at the prom.”

Abart said students and teachers longed to give hugs as they visited but refrained.

The afternoon of Saturday, April 25, a few teachers arrived at Madonna Learning Center to help launch prom. Music, a disco ball and the Zoom broadcast were run from Madonna.

Prom did not start until 7 p.m. Saturday, but well before then students and their teachers logged on to Zoom. Excitement and smiles grew as more people joined.

Teachers told students how great they looked. Christine Morrow, work-based learning supervisor, held signs that said “Madonna teachers love their students,” “Madonna rules,” “Prom 2K20” and she waved sparklers during part of the event. Jennifer Kacic, Group 2 teaching assistant’s sign said “Are you ready to dance?”

As 7 p.m. arrived, Jo Gilbert, executive director, greeted students over zoom.

“Who’s ready to dance?” she asked as students responded with delight.

She introduced “DJ Rob.” Rob Crone, assistant director and job coach for the school’s continuing education program, controlled the tunes for the festivities. He included “YMCA”, “Hakuna Matata”, “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and other tunes. Students enjoyed bopping to the Whip and Nae Nae as “Watch Me” by Silento played.

Students were dressed to the nines. Ava Gray swayed in front of the computer to make her sequined dress sparkle in the light. Sam Bryant wore a button down with a top hat. Some of the girls donned tiaras. Ethan Petty wore a red bow tie. McKinnon Fratta held flowers. Carli Brown had fun-colored disco lights in her room she shared virtually with friends. Emily Savage’s dress shimmered like the Christmas lights behind her. Benjamin Halverson wore a silver jacket and a crown.

Each student was safe at home. A few teachers at the school controlled the Zoom stream so each student appeared on full screen. When students saw they were featured, they made sure to strut their moves. About 75 were logged into the meeting, according to Abart.

Teachers also had screen time. Abart and Keva Ford showed off the Cha Cha Slide from their offices. Some in other parts of the school wore dresses and twirled as students danced along and waved. Erin D.H. Williams, director of the school’s annual Christmas play, dressed up and waved to students throughout the prom.

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Luke McDonald requested “We Will Rock You.” His eyes lit up when he heard the drum beat. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” was played for student Caroline Williamson. She beamed and swayed in front of her device, wearing a red dress.

“This is the best day ever,” she exclaimed while the song played.

Throughout prom some teachers and students showed off their pups. Some danced with a parent or sibling.

And at the end, the night celebrated Madonna families. As DJ Rob played “We are Family” he asked parents and siblings to join students.

“It was cool to see how families were involved,” Abart said.

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Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


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