After this boy asked this girl to the Northside High School prom, she immediately said yes — but she also posed a hopeful question:
Could her BFF join them?
That friend has Down syndrome.
The boy immediately said yes, too.
So when Northside has its prom Saturday in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, perhaps no date will be more joyful than this trio of juniors: Margaret Hollingsworth, Rivers Buice and Bhavita Patel.
Margaret’s interest in aiding students with disabilities was sparked last spring, when she was among the Northside tennis players who helped coach Lindsay Johnson conduct a Special Olympics session.
“I realized how much I enjoy it and how much fun I have with the kids and how much it means to them,” said Margaret, 17, now dually enrolled at Columbus State University.
Johnson is a special-education teacher at Northside, where Margaret is a peer facilitator for academic credit in Johnson’s physical education class with nine special-needs students. This year in that class, Margaret said, she became “super close” to Bhavita, who goes by “Bhavi.”
With a smile, Johnson suggested a reason: “They’re both like divas.”
They revel in getting their nails, makeup and hair done. “And we sing and dance all the time,” Margaret added with a laugh.
Once a month or so, they get together outside of school. They’ve toured Christmas lights, watched movies, played miniature golf and eaten out. They regularly chat on FaceTime. Bhavi even walks longer in gym class when Margaret accompanies her.
No wonder they call each other “BFF” — best friends forever.
Asked what she likes about Margaret, Bhavi said, “She’s sweet.”
Asked what she likes about Bhavi, Margaret said, “She tells it how it is. … If I’m having a rough day, she’ll tell me to suck it up and smile. Or she’ll tell me that I look pretty or that I look a little rough.”
So it’s not a one-way relationship.
“I think she definitely helps me just as much I help her,” Margaret said. “We enjoy each other. … She really makes me appreciate what I have and what I can do. Whenever I see her struggling to walk a mile, it makes me want to go walk 10 or help her be able to do as much as she can.”
Johnson explained such a revelation is common among the peer facilitators in her class.
“They sign up thinking that they’re going to help somebody else,” she said. “But in the end, the special-needs kids always help the general-ed kids.”
Margaret got the idea about Bhavi going to the Northside prom with her while driving Bhavi to and from the “Night to Shine” special-needs prom, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, at Cascade Hills Church in February. Margaret noticed how much the event boosted Bhavi.
About two weeks ago, Rivers asked in a text message whether Margaret would be his prom date.
“We were just friends,” Margaret said. “I was happy he asked me because I wanted to go with someone I was already friends with so it wouldn’t be an awkward prom.”
A few days later, Margaret texted Rivers and asked whether Bhavi could join them.
“I thought it was a great idea,” said Rivers, 17, who plays baseball for Northside.
Asked why he didn’t think Bhavi joining their date would crimp his style, Rivers said, “I don’t know how to explain it. There was no thought in my head to say no. Why would I? Bhavi’s great.”
Out of 375 juniors, Bhavi was one of two that the students voted to be on the homecoming court. So including special-needs students in the life of the school is nothing new at Northside, and Bhavi clearly already was popular.
“My special-needs students are not singled out here,” said Johnson, who also coaches volleyball and is in her 10th year teaching, including four at Northside. “I would never worry about bullying with my kids – ever. I feel like they’re so loved in school, I have never seen anybody pick on them. … So many high school kids can be so arrogant and selfish, and I just feel like our student body is so selfless.”
Rivers put the Northside inclusive culture this way: “They just want everybody to be involved and have a part in the high school years. … Some people aren’t nice, but they’re not mean to each other.”
Margaret added, “I think that we all just really want each other to succeed. It doesn’t really matter who you are or anything else you have going on, but you go to Northside, so when you succeed we succeed.”
Proms, however, too often are considered different, Johnson acknowledged.
“At other places it would be like, ‘I want to make prom about me. Prom is my night,’” Johnson said. “ … Here, these students, they’re more concerned about helping others instead of being so concerned about themselves.”
So all that was left to do was to plan the promposal. They conspired to surprise Bhavi during Rivers’ PE class last Thursday. Johnson escorted Bhavi into the gym, Rivers gave her flowers, Margaret crowned her with a tiara, and the poster they held declared, “Since you were our homecoming queen, be our princess at prom.”
Bhavi teared up and immediately said yes.
“I was very happy,” Bhavi said.
Rivers recalled, “I didn’t expect her to be as happy as she was. She had a huge smile. … It felt good, really good, like I was doing something amazing.”
Margaret soaked up the scene.
“I was just thankful that I got to be in Bhavi’s life,” Margaret said. “I think she was overwhelmingly excited.”
Margaret posted the video on Twitter with this message: “My best friend said yes to prom!!!!!!”
Bhavi’s sister Ashita, a Columbus High School senior, tweeted to Margaret, “You are the best thing to ever happen to my sister. Please take good care of her when I’m gone next year!!”
Margaret tweeted back, “I definitely will. She’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.”