Students in Llano’s Castle program find rhythm, new friends at Valentine’s Day dance

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE STAFF

LLANO — With the music pumping through the hall, students from more than 20 area schools found their rhythm and took to the dance floor.

PHOTO 1: Llano High School Castle program instructor Tina Foxworth (left) and transition student Savannah Smith celebrate Valentine’s Day on Feb. 8 during a party at St. James Lutheran Church in Llano. The Castle program hosted the event and invited transition and special-needs students from 26 area schools. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Llano High School Castle programPHOTO 2: Marble Falls Middle School Life Skills instructor Travis Tynes and student Vincent Cisneros enjoy the Valentine’s Day celebration Feb. 8 hosted by the Llano High School Castle program at St. James Lutheran Church in Llano. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

“They don’t worry what anybody thinks, they just get out there and have fun,” said Tina Foxworth, an instructor with the Llano High School Castle program. “This is a great chance for the students to get out, socialize and make friends. Some of the kids know each other from other activities such as Special Olympics. It’s just fun for them.”

Llano High School Castle is a transitional program for young adults with special needs who have graduated from high school but are still learning skills to become more independent. The program hosted its eighth annual Valentine’s Day Dance and Celebration at St. James Lutheran Church on Feb. 8. Organizers sent out invitations to 26 middle and high schools across Central Texas with more than 120 special-needs students attending the event.

Castle student Savannah Smith smiled as she watched her friends head back to the dance floor after finishing with their pizza.

“I enjoy all the people coming here and getting together,” she said. “We have a lot of fun, but we also get a chance to see some of the friends we’ve made from other schools.”

The Marble Falls High School transition-home staff brought two students for the event.

“Events like this get them outside the structured environment and let them just have a great time,” said Jennifer Virdell of the Marble Falls program. “It really lets them meet kids like themselves.”

Foxworth agreed. She added that when the students connect at events such as these, the friendships are often just starting. Many of the kids from different schools then find times to get together outside of class or the social gatherings to hang out and do things just like their peers.

“They are no different than other kids,” she said. “They may not be able to do everything other kids can do, but they know how to have fun. My students, they look forward to this dance every year.”

As music rolled from the speakers next to the DJ booth, more kids flooded the dance floor. At one point, the mass of dancers forced organizers to push back the tables to make room for more students.

“That’s a good problem to have,” Foworth said.

Smith, who is in her final year of the Castle program and looking to college, bounced along with the beat. Then, without any prodding, she and a friend headed across the hall toward the dance floor, smiling all the way.

daniel@thepicayune.com