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Friends Join In Festive Holiday
They danced the day away at Escalon High on Wednesday, with the annual holiday gathering for students in the San Joaquin County Special Education programs hosted on the campus.

Escalon Kiwanis, the student Key Club and the Friends Helping Friends group at the school joined forces to offer the special event, which drew participants from several county youth day programs and the Tracy Adult Program, in addition to special needs students from Escalon's own Special Day Class.

There was laughter, food, a stage show, dancing and lots of time to visit with Santa and pose for commemorative photos, provided free to all participants by webfotoz out of Stockton.

"It's such a good feeling," said junior Katie San Julian, a third year Friends Helping Friends club member who helped coordinate this year's dance. "It's their formal and it feels good for our buddies to be here, there are no worries, no drama."

Students in the Friends Helping Friends club partner with a special day class 'buddy' and San Julian said several attended the dance on Wednesday.

A highlight of the day was the appearance of the group The Advocates, a singing group made up entirely of special needs adults in a private day program. The popular group has made appearances throughout the region, performing at such venues as the San Joaquin and Stanislaus county fairs, Disability Awareness Day and even the state fair.

They have been together performing on stage for three years, and put on their annual Christmas Show at the Stockton Civic Auditorium on Tuesday, Dec. 9.

"They were inspirational to all of us," San Julian said.

Teacher Rick Heflin, a Kiwanis Club member and advisor for the student Key Club at Escalon, said once again, the day was an affirmation for those special needs students who had the chance to share the dance floor and holiday sprit with mainstream students.

"It's going great," he said in between spinning tunes. "There's a wonderful turnout, we got everybody from all over to come, Lori (special day class aide Lori San Julian) does a great job with that."

Special Day Class teacher Tim Reed offered thanks to his classroom aides and Rick Heflin for their efforts in getting the event together, along with the student club helpers.

Setting up to serve lunch for 200, Heflin noted that between the students, teachers, aides and volunteer helpers from the Key Club and Friends Helping Friends, there was just enough to get everyone fed.

Lori San Julian said it was an extra special day for her students, with nearly all of them coming to school dressed up and ready to party.

"My kids consider this their prom," she said. "They're all dressed up and have so much fun."

A helper in phys ed class for the special day class, two-year Friends member Julianne Dismukes said she wants to pursue a career in the special education field and was glad to help out for the day.

"It puts a smile on their face," she said of watching the students dance and interact with each other.

Kiwanis Club member Jerry Emery was a first time volunteer at the dance, having recently retired.

"It gave me an opportunity to help out," he explained. "This is great, everyone is thoroughly enjoying it."

From the Chicken Dance to 'Bad to the Bone,' there was a wide range of musical styles for dancing and participants seemed to enjoy every tune offered, some even performing with air guitars.

The friendship dance was started several years ago, after many of the Special Olympics sports events that used to bring students from throughout the county together during the school year were discontinued. Heflin approached Escalon's Special Day Class teacher Tim Reed with the idea of getting all the kids together for a social function and the holiday dance was the result.

"I think it's excellent, this is my fifth year and it gets better and better," said Robin Acuna of West High in Tracy, who was with several of her students at the event. "The helpers are excellent, they get the kids going."