Always the alternative, Yampah leaps into era of virtual prom
Alternative high school adapts its individualized approach online
Virtual prom might just have something on the formal in-person rite of passage for high school students.
As awkward as that computer screen full of faces can be — including the occasional dad, little brother or pet party crasher — it might not be quite as awkward as a real high school dance.
Just ask the newly-crowned virtual prom experts from Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs, who gave it a try recently, what they thought of the experience.
“I was honestly really excited for prom, and was a little nervous even though I wasn’t even leaving the house,” Yampah sophomore Kyanna Long said. “I was one of the first people on the prom call, and just started dancing. It was so much fun; just like being there.”
Yampah, an alternative high school in Glenwood Springs serving about 150 students from Parachute to Aspen, took the leap the night of April 17 into what might have been the first virtual prom ever — at least locally.
In addition to adapting the school’s highly personalized, hands-on learning approach to an online format, the tight-knit school has found success staying connected socially in the new virtual world brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and related school and business shutdowns.
“I was honestly expecting more teachers than students,” senior Lexi Gann said of the virtual prom. “I haven’t heard of any others trying it, but our school really put in the effort to make it happen. Especially for the seniors, we don’t get another chance.”
Senior Bentley Garcia was the “superstar” contest winner at prom, which had about 70 participants at the height of the evening.
“It was just a super fun night, and very unique,” he said. “I talked to some friends at other schools and they were like, ‘why are you doing that? That’s so Yampah.’”
By day, Jono Moreau is the photography and outdoor education instructor at Yampah, and oversees the student-run HAVOC Skateboards business project.
By night, the Yampah alum is an EDM (electronic dance music) DJ and served up the dance mixes for prom night.
“There was no research I could find for a virtual prom, so I’m thinking we’re the pioneers,” Moreau said. “The music is the main thing, and is the incentive to keep people participating.
“That, and the Amazon gift cards we gave away,” he joked. “We definitely did it Yampah style.”
Prom night included the usual decorations — each to their own space, of course — a few of the students were in formal dress, while others wore wild costumes, even going to the closet to change-up the look now and then.
There was even a virtual photo booth, and some of the moms in Yampah’s Teen Parent program had their babies and toddlers along for some prom fun.
Starting Tuesday, Yampah offers its Interim Week student expeditions — a series of experiential learning offerings for students that are being done in a virtual setting this semester.
The week includes college tours, outdoor experiences, a vision quest with Native American elders, field trips to the zoo, scuba diving, a trip to New York City, rocket-building and other science explorations.
Moreau is conducting a Sound & Skateboards expedition, where students will play a game of “HORSE” using skateboard tricks done on live video, along with music workshops and an online live performance by Colorado rap artist and Yampah alumni “SuperLove.”
“None of this is ideal, but from the beginning we wanted to make this as much Yampah-like as possible, given what we are faced with,” Yampah Principal Leigh McGown said. “If we’re stuck in a virtual environment, we wanted to do it in a way where we still have those relationships.”
That daily interaction is important for Gann and her fellow seniors, who are also busy preparing a virtual graduation celebration.
“Sure, we’d all rather not be doing this, but it’s not a bad thing,” Gann said. “We’re just glad to be doing something, and not be lost in our own minds.”
Regular coursework and classroom instruction at Yampah is now being done via Google Classroom, following the same periods as they would for in-house learning.
A mix of synchronistic (real-time class meetings) and asynchronistic (completing assignments on students’ own time) is also incorporated, similar to the Roaring Fork School District’s approach.
“Honestly, we have learned a lot about access and will be keeping many of these methods in the future as we have gained engagement from some of our most difficult to engage,” McGown said. “So there is a fit for different students, and this is meeting a new need beyond that forced upon us.”
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A press release came out in the afternoon on Friday, Jan. 22 with details about a transition to distance learning for the entire fifth grade, including its teachers, at Carbondale Middle School (CMS).