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Haven and Hope

picture of prom car

The O-School maintains a therapeutic milieu that includes every member of the staff and faculty at the school. By having an all-encompassing experience, the students are able to better access relationships – the best vehicle for growth and change. This blog celebrates the experience of The O-School Facilities Director and his thoughtful contributions to the O-School tradition, PROM.

prom sign 2023

With its many co-curricular opportunities, the O-School prides itself on providing a rich school experience in a therapeutic setting. That includes the O-School’s prom, which is as unique as the school itself and a testament to our community. Instead of a night that typically focuses on guests and their dates, the O-School invites students and their families, as well as staff, most of whom have been with the students since the beginning of the school year, to this end-of-year celebration. The beauty of this prom is that it is comfortable and fun in whatever way the eventgoers want to interpret it. Participants can choose to dress to the nines, which most of the students do, or keep it as casual as a typical school day.  You will see beautiful ballroom gowns as well as those wearing O-School T-shirts on the dance floor — all with the goal of having a wonderful time.  You will also see footballs and Jenga tiles toppling underneath a beautiful blue sky, “because it NEVER rains on prom night” as the school principal likes to say. Unbelievably, it never has since we moved into the new building nine years ago!

While the prom requires an amazing amount of collaboration and work from many different departments, especially the art department, one group of behind-the-scenes staff, the facilities team led by the Facilities Director (that’s me) and the Building Manager, contributes a significant role by producing major items each year. From Jurassic Prom in 2015 to Prom Noir in 2023, we have made it a mission each year to create a large-scale centerpiece for the event to go along with the theme selected by the Student Council. These centerpieces provide the perfect spot for a photo-op for students, family, and staff on prom night, and they usually linger in the school dining room over the next few months for continued enjoyment and as a reminder of the wonderful night enjoyed by students, families, and staff. Building the prom centerpiece is one of our favorite projects each year, and we enjoy watching the excited faces of the students as they see these items for the first time.

Let’s take a journey through the history of our prom centerpieces, each one a unique creation that has added to the charm of our event since we moved into our new building.


2015 – Jurassic Prom

In 2015, I was new to the school and new to the tradition of prom. When I was told the theme was Jurassic Prom, I knew I could get into the spirit. I saw we had large boxes, and ever since my days working in a print shop, I have liked making things out of cardboard, so I tried my hand at creating a large dinosaur. With help from the Building Manager, who invented a great way to make the legs pair with the head and torso, we built a beautiful 10-foot tall dinosaur.


2016 – Cherry Blossoms

The building manager’s background in carpentry opened the door for us to make an amazing archway like one would find in a Japanese garden. A former student created the graphic for the top, and the art team crafted the flowers wrapped around the arch.

2017 – Space and Astronomy

To date, this was my favorite prom, and I went a little overboard with excitement and creations. With the help of the art team’s amazing paint job, I made an 8-foot by 20-foot USS Enterprise, a life-sized R2-D2, and the head of Groot. After the Enterprise was removed from the ceiling, we donated it to a science fiction convention to display at the show.


2018 – Victorian

With the theme being Victorian, we thought it would be great to make a horse and carriage centerpiece. With the help of the art team’s painting skills, the horses really came to life.

2019 – Gardens of the World

For this prom, I recruited a student worker to help us build a koi pond. We used a pond from the old building to hold the fish we created and painted to look like koi. Old computer fans and old fire panel batteries were used to simulate fish swimming through the water. Photographs do not do the centerpiece justice, but it looked great on prom night.

2022 – Supermarkets

After a two-year hiatus due to Covid, the in-person prom returned with the theme Supermarkets. Facilities and art created the ambiance of a supermarket with a cart full of oversized food, as well as posters to mimic storefront signs.

2023 – Prom Noir

This prom brought the elements of what you would see in film noir, so I built a 1930s roadster to pair with a cityscape created by the art class and George’s cutouts of the Mad Magazine characters, Spy vs. Spy.

Preparations are underway for this year’s prom, in which the theme is Y2K.  We will be ready to produce an amazing centerpiece and other decorations that will center around the year 2000 where all prom-goers can take photos and have a lifetime of memories to share from their days at the O-School.


Author Dan Sliwinski has served as the director of facilities at the Leslie Shankman School Corporation, the parent organization of the O-School for the last eight years. To learn more about the O-School’s Day Program, please visit our website. If you have a child or loved one who you believe could benefit from the O-School’s services, please visit our contact page, or call Director of Admissions Kristin Friesen at 773-420-2891.

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Haven and Hope is a destination for professionals, educators, and parents to learn from O-School experts about the issues facing children and adolescents with a variety of social-emotional challenges and/or autism, and how various aspects of the School’s 21st century therapeutic milieu provides a safe haven and a path to hope for those in need.

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