As students rose to their feet and cheered on two of their favorite classmates, Jacob Pace had one thought running through his mind.
“I was a winner,” Jacob said.
Jacob, who is developmentally disabled, and his friend Destiny Thomas, who has cerebral palsy, had just learned they would be duke and duchess of homecoming week in an assembly on Thursday, Oct. 9.
The next night at halftime of the school’s football game, the sophomores waved to their friends and family on the duke and duchess float just ahead of the homecoming king and queen. They were accompanied by one of Jacob’s best friends, Lauren Mattaini, who helped the leadership committee with the idea to make the students homecoming royalty.
Lynn Pace, Jacob’s mother, said her son and other kids in the special needs program have been embraced by students and teachers throughout their education in the Ferndale School District.
She said Jacob has never come home from school upset because of something a classmate said. When he goes to football games, it takes 20 minutes to finally sit down because he talks to so many other students on the way to his seat.
When he came home on Thursday, he told his mom, “Yeah baby, I’m the Duke.”
She credits the way the school district integrates the students into the system, even at the elementary and middle school levels.
“They don’t shut them away,” Pace said. “They’re part of the school, they get to do pretty much everything the other kids get to do, and I think that makes the kids much more empathetic and makes them better kids all around.”
Cherry Myers, who adopted Destiny when the girl was 3 years old, said her daughter loves being able to participate in general education classes.
“She was so excited after the assembly,” Myers said. “She said, ‘Mom, they clapped for me.’”
Leadership students at Ferndale High School helped elect the two students. Rick Brudwick, who teaches the leadership class at Ferndale High School, said special needs students will be duke and duchess every year from now on because of the way students have responded.
“They’re still talking about it. They all think that was the one of the greatest things done at the school,” Brudwick said.
When students learned Jacob and Destiny were the duke and duchess of Homecoming, tears streamed down many students’ faces in the crowd, Brudwick said.
“It was a pretty special moment,” he said.
Rose Compton, a junior and student in the leadership class, said everyone was “overjoyed by the whole experience.”
“It shows the good side of Ferndale and how kind everyone can be,” Compton said.