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NEWNAN, Ga. - For the first time ever, two students with special needs are the reigning homecoming king and queen of Northgate High School in Newnan, Georgia.
Jessica Marintdale and Anastas "Anie" Nenov were crowned 2014 homecoming king and queen Friday. Both students are from the special-needs self-contained class.
“They were all campaigning for these kids. They were just amazing,” said Cathy Nenov, Anie's mom. “They are all destined for success, especially because of their hearts.”
Nenov said she was touched to hear that the class had nominated her 19-year-old son, who has fragile X syndrome.
“It’s a developmental disorder that looks a lot like autism, involves delays in cognitive speech, motor skills, but also has a real gift for comedy, enthusiasm and happiness,” Nenov said.
Anie and Jessica are close friends and have gained a world of self-confidence after being crowned.
“The students went wild, stomping their feet and chanting their names,” Nenov said. “Their spirit was amazing. I was amazed. I’d never seen my son be so outgoing like this.”
Jessica, an 18-year-old who Nenov said has unidentified developmental disabilities, was also thrilled to win.
“She’s just overjoyed,” said Margaret Yelland, Jessica’s grandmother and guardian. “It’s just really special that they get treated like regular kids, because they really are.”
Jessica’s family found a couple of prom-style dresses for Jessica to wear for her special evening. However, they were quickly informed that their classroom was filled with prom dresses that the teachers had bought for Jessica.
She said, “Ma, did you know you could cry and laugh at the same time?” Yelland said of her granddaughter finding out she had been nominated.
Yelland said her son traveled from Michigan to walk Jessica down the football field.
“It was wonderful. The whole stadium stood up and screamed her name,” Yelland said. “I never realized that there were kids like these kids. A whole bunch of parents have done a wonderful job.”
Another student who was also nominated took her to a beauty parlor to make sure she looked the part.
“The kids on the court were just as happy for Jessica and Anie as anybody in the school,” Nenov said.
Nenov said her son’s winning homecoming court showed her there is an abundance of compassion and kindness in their community.
“I’ve always been a big believer of them being in regular population,” Nenov said of special-needs students.
She understands some students need a balance but said that Anie has always been as mainstreamed as possible. He is a drama student and works with the Northgate Vikings football team. He’s never missed a game, his mother said.
Jessica has aspirations to work in the service industry after high school.
Both teens are involved with an organization called ASPIRES Inc., which raises awareness for families and their children who experience developmental disabilities.
“There are a lot of potential homecoming kings and queens out there, and I would love for them to know that someday they’ll be recognized,” she said.
As for parents, Nenov said she would suggest they mainstream their special-needs child as much as possible.
“I know they are going through a hard time and wondering if they are doing the right thing. Wondering if they’ll get a break, if there’s help, if there’s hope,” she said. “I think this is a sign there’s hope for us all.”