Students shine in fifth annual PALS pageant


Aelise Gagliano

The female participants of the Peers Are Linking Students pageant are all awarded with a sash and crown. The PALS pageant is an event which allows students with disabilities to shine on stage and interact with their peers. Students at the Mill and at Whitewater High were also able to escort a participant or help backstage. “So many people from the community are more than happy to help in any way they can,” Starr’s Mill alumni Elizabeth Keown said.

Spencer Dawson, Features co-Editor

On March 18, the fifth annual Peers Are Linking Students pageant took place in the Starr’s Mill High School Willie Duke Auditorium. PALS connects students in the special education program with their other peers and allows them to participate in an array of extracurricular events. Specifically, the PALS pageant allows students in special education to step on stage and show the audience their talents while getting closer with their friends and fellow students.

“Many of the students who participate would never have an opportunity like this to shine on stage, especially if they choose to perform a talent,” Reaching Educational And Career Heights program teacher Jenny Bellamy said. “This means a lot to the participants and their parents. From the beginning, we made every effort to ensure people know that this is not a contest, so nobody gets caught up in winning or losing. It’s all about having fun.”

The PALS pageant was established five years ago by Starr’s Mill alumni Elizabeth Keown and Sarah Boyd after they attended a summer camp in Tennessee in between their sophomore and junior years. “During one of the sessions, a girl told the story of how she had created a special needs beauty pageant in her home town. After she wrapped up, Lizzie and I began to talk and we realized that Starr’s Mill and Fayette County as a whole would be an amazing place to have our own pageant where everyone could be a winner and shine for the night. We were also surprised that Starr’s Mill didn’t already have one. Lucky for us, we both already knew Jenny Bellamy well, and we knew that she could help this dream become a reality,” Boyd said.

It’s so awesome to sit in the crowd and see the confidence each participant exudes.

— PALS pageant originator and Starr's Mill alumna Elizabeth Keown

Bellamy fully supported the idea of Keown and Boyd and has worked all five of the PALS pageants. “We came back to school that fall and presented the idea to Mrs. Bellamy and she immediately supported it,” Keown said. “Without her help and guidance, it would not have been possible.”

The pageant has continued to grow in size and in popularity every year. “I feel like the pageant is more widely recognized now. We get more participation from other schools rather than just mainly Starr’s Mill. Also, in our first year, many faculty and staff did not know much about the pageant because we were still trying to organize it and figure it out ourselves. However, as the years have gone on, we have received so much support and help from other faculty and staff, which makes all of our jobs that much easier. We have grown with the pageant as well,” Boyd said.

Another growing aspect of the pageant is the confidence of participants to share their talents. “My favorite aspect is the talent portion. Our first year we had only seven talents and some of them almost didn’t perform that night due to stage fright. The next year, we had doubled in talent participants and everyone was so confident when they took the stage,” Keown said. “Now, we typically have around 15 talents and many participants spend weeks preparing for it. It’s so awesome to sit in the crowd and see the confidence each participant exudes when they take the stage and have their moment to show off their awesome talent.”

In order for this program to take place, preparations are made six months before the pageant. “Most of the work is coordinating with people we need to help run the pageant, like our sound technicians, video person and a number of volunteers to help run our silent auction, people’s choice award table, snack sales, and help back stage. The most time-consuming parts are soliciting the silent auction donations and all of the administrative work that has to be done the week before the pageant like typing up the participants’ bios, finalizing the program, and determining order of events for the evening,” Bellamy said. “This was our fifth pageant and each year it gets a little bit easier. We have an extensive checklist that outlines what needs to be done when, from six months out until the day of the pageant.”   

Once the stage is set, the show is ready to begin. The pageant begins with a parade of the participants followed by the introduction of the participants and escorts. This year, there were 25 female participants and 23 male participants. Following the introduction is the sharing of talents. Participants were given the option to participate in talent if they wished to. Fifteen groups took the stage, all stealing the hearts of the audience members leaving them in awe of their talent and courage. Then, the People’s Choice Award male and female winner are announced after votes from the audience are tallied. This year’s winners included Whitewater juniors Lovlina Outhavong and Corbett Dishman. Finally, the participants are awarded and honored for their courage and ability to shine on stage.

“My favorite part of the PALS Pageant is seeing everyone shine, especially when students get up on stage and showcase their talent. It feels like the auditorium is filled with love. We are all there to have a good time and support each other. This year, I really recognized how much courage it takes for them to get on stage and perform because I know I sure couldn’t do it,” Boyd said.

The PALS pageant serves as an opportunity for students with disabilities to share the stage with their peers and to celebrate their successes and talents with the community as a whole. As Director of Exceptional Children’s Services Rosie Gwin said in her opening remarks, “we win awards for many different achievements across the district. In Exceptional Children’s Services, we win awards for great outcomes for our students with disabilities, and we are proud of those outcomes. As the DECS, however, the thing that makes me most proud is that so many of our students, teachers, parents, and community members have embraced the idea that ‘we are better together,’ and we are. The PALS Pageant exemplifies this idea.”