“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...” More accurately, it was a chilly Friday morning in December in a classroom on the Warren High School campus.
The Force was strong as the school came together to throw a surprise 18th birthday celebration student Abel Soto will never forget. Lightsabers included.
Soto is autistic and does not speak often at school, but when he told teacher Rosalyn Jones that his birthday was Dec. 10 and that the new Star Wars movie was coming out five days later, she enlisted her fellow Warriors in executing an event straight out of the movies.
“We’re a family in here and Abel is part of our family,” Jones said. “To do something special for him was a way for all of us to show him we love him, care for him, and are here to support and encourage him. He’s accepted in here.”
December 4 – 8 is Inclusive Schools Week, a time to recognize all that schools do to support and educate their diverse student populations. Principal Valerie Sisk uses the phrase “All Means All” every day and it’s that spirit that brought together a dedicated group of party planners.
Soto’s classmates in his third period Principals of Human Services class helped decorate the classroom, played birthday games, and even brought gifts, while other teachers, administrators, and community members pitched in with a red carpet, movies, music, cake, pizza, and water.
“He’s just my friend and I’m glad I’m here for him,” said ninth grader Cameron Hafferty. “It felt good to see him smiling a lot. I think it meant a lot to him.”
Hafferty and Jones help Soto unwrap birthday gifts.
After helping Abel blow out the candles and cut the cake, Jones told him, “You are an amazing guy. Have a great birthday and may the Force always be with you.”
Abel blows out all 18 candles on his Star Wars-themed birthday cake.
Some new friends also joined the festivities. Think Geek, a store at North Star Mall, sent Star Wars characters to the party after Jones went to the store looking for a Darth Vader mask.
Abel and his mother surrounded by some special birthday party guests.
Soto’s parents and siblings were also included on the guest list and the surprise was just as meaningful to them.
“We’ve had the best experience at Warren. I’ve never met a teacher like (Jones) – her heart is bottomless,” Abel’s mother Elizabeth Soto said. “The kids are great to him and they treat him like part of the group.”
As the party was ending, Soto approached Jones and gave her a huge hug which brought tears to her eyes.
“Just to see the smile on his face was all I wanted,” Jones said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a better birthday party in my life!” Elizabeth Soto said. “We will never forget this.”