Kendra Penningroth

Friday, April 7, 2017

Homeschooled but not home alone: Homeschooled teens head to prom

WASHINGTON – Grace Rushing was busy Thursday with her friends, adding last-minute decorating touches before guests show up Friday for their galaxy-themed prom at the Palacio at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak.

It could be any high school prom: There will be dinner and dancing to a deejay in a room decorated by the prom committee and the “prom moms” who have been helping them.

But this is the 10th annual homeschool prom, which organizers believe is the only regularly recurring prom in the state for homeschooled teens.

About 140 teens are expected at the event, which long ago sold out – even though people were still calling prom organizers Thursday looking for tickets. Grace, 17, said most of the homeschoolers she has talked to are excited about tomorrow night.

“Prom is probably one of the biggest events we have … so everyone is really excited,” Grace said. “Being able to be homeschooled, and go to a prom, is just great.”

The dance is sponsored by MoezArt Productions, a Valley theater company that offers drama classes to homeschooled students. It helps raise money to offset the $11,000 to $12,000 cost of the evening.

Decorations at the prom for homeschooled teens included Bible verses along with the “Out of this World” celestial theme. (Photo courtesy Grace Rushing)

Sharon Rodriguez, the company’s artistic director, said that every year the dance’s popularity grows, but for the last three years the guest list has been completely “maxed out.”

The dance is open to all homeschooled juniors and seniors in Arizona, and organizers said people come from as far as Flagstaff and Wickenburg. Tracey Matteson – a “prom mom” along with Grace’s mom, Erin – said students occasionally bring younger guests or guests from public, private or charter schools.

Rodriguez said the event may look like a typical prom, but that “there’s a different feel to it, it’s a very family-friendly environment.”

It’s not uncommon for it to be a family tradition, said Matteson, whose two older children attended the prom before they graduated and whose sophomore son plans to attend Friday.

She said many of the parents get involved, either as chaperones or for the hour-long parent reception at the beginning of the dance.

“They’re (parents) very involved with their kids,” Rodriguez said.

Matteson said eight parents will stick around to ensure there is no alcohol on the premises and that no one is “sneaking off in a corner.” But she said they have “never had a problem with any of that” before.

Rodriguez said there is not a formal dress code but that, in general, attendees are dressed conservatively because the students are “very conservative” by nature.

“We are Christians,” Rodriguez said. “We wouldn’t be ashamed if a parent, or a 5-year-old walked in.”

While a 2015 Visa Inc. study predicted that American families would spend more than $900 on average on the prom, Rodriguez said the greatest homeschool prom expense is typically the ticket: $85 before the early-bird deadline and $95 after. In addition to admission, the ticket buys dinner, dessert and a professional portrait.

Grace said she and her friends tried their best to bargain shop for their prom looks. She found her $40 dress at Last Chance, a Nordstrom clearance store, and said several friends found dresses at Goodwill. Rodriguez said the boys typically borrow something, or wear dress clothes they already own.

Rodriguez said most students come with friends, not a “serious” date, so extravagant promposals are not common. Although one of her male students this year did ask a female classmate to prom with flowers on stage during drama class.

Grace expects Friday night to be great – although she admits to being biased because her “out of this world” theme was chosen for this year’s dance.

The seven-member prom committee has been planning since late August. By Friday night, the room will be decorated with Christmas lights, black and blue tablecloths and hand-painted Bible verses.

“There’s just something really cool about walking through the doors and seeing all the hard work you’ve put in,” Grace said.

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