PLANT CITY It was more a spotlight on their fun-loving personalities than their clothing.
Plant City High School exceptional education students took to the stage Jan. 31 for the eighth annual Every Buddy’s Beautiful Fashion Show, entertaining the audience of friends and family in the school auditorium with their singing, dancing and celebrity impersonations.
Partnering with the high school’s Best Buddies program, the Plant City High School Cosmetology Department and its Cosmetology SkillsUSA chapter host the fashion show to give students in the high school’s exceptional student education program an opportunity to shine, said Laurel Ritenbaugh, the daytime cosmetology teacher and adviser for the Cosmetology SkillsUSA chapter.
Founded at Plant City High School in 2000-01, Best Buddies is a national program that partners students with mental and physical disabilities with able-bodied students.
“This school has really embraced the Best Buddies program,” said Ritenbaugh. “You always see special students walking down the hall or eating lunch with their buddies. The program has created many friendships and has gone a long way toward helping integrating our special students into the student body.”
The cosmetology students got involved with the Best Buddies program 13 years ago when they met a young girl who was living in a group home for exceptional children, said Molly Copeland, co-president of the high school’s Cosmetology Skills USA chapter.
“Her head was shaved simply because it was easier for the group home to keep her clean,” said Copeland.
To assist the exceptional students’ caretakers, the cosmetology students volunteered to provide haircuts, shampoos, manicures and makeup to the students every other Wednesday.
Over the years, the cosmetology students have worked with 2,100 people with disabilities, helping them manage their hygiene needs while building their confidence.
“I’m amazed at the impact these students have had on us,” said Copeland. “Many friendships have been established through this project.”
Exceptional student Ashley McElroy, who became mentally and physically disabled following a traumatic brain injury, was the inspiration for the Every Buddy’s Beautiful Fashion Show, said Ritenbaugh.
“One of our cosmetology students, Summer Pippin, was crowned the 2006 Strawberry Festival queen. As part of her reign, she was required to wear her sash and crown at all times during the festival weeks,” said Ritenbaugh. “So she was wearing them the day Ashley came in to have her hair done. Ashley was so enamored with Summer’s sparkling crown and sash, she declared that she, too, was beautiful and that she would be a queen in a show some day.”
That day came the following year when the cosmetology students hosted their first fashion show.
This year, McElroy not only returned as a model for the show but helped Copeland, co-president Jana Watkins and Ashley Bishop emcee the program.
“She may have a traumatic brain injury, but nothing can take away Ashley’s spirit,” said Ritenbaugh.
This year’s show culminated with a rousing performance of Ray Stevens’ “Everything is Beautiful,” sung by the newly formed Plant City High School ESE Chorus led by Ritenbaugh’s husband, ESE teacher Jay Ritenbaugh.
The annual fashion show and Wednesday salon sessions with ESE students helped earn the Cosmetology SkillsUSA chapter honors in this year’s National SkillsUSA Championships.
The Plant City chapter placed 11th out of 53 teams from around the country. In addition, Bishop and Watkins each received $1,000 scholarships for community service.