Prom night extra special for two seniors from Basic Academy

Basic Academy of International Studies senior Blake Hernandez walked into Jill Spatafore’s special education class March 4, alongside a group of peers holding a long yellow banner and The Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” playing in the background.

“Larissa, Blake has something to ask you,” special education teaching assistant Mary Bernier told senior Larissa Evans.

Blake, holding a dozen red roses, red balloons and a basket full of heart cutouts, heart boxes and a big, pink pompom, asked Larissa to their senior prom.

While that familiar scene plays out every year for many thousands of American teenagers, it isn’t as common for special education students.

Including Blake and Larissa, just three of more than 400 special education students attended Saturday’s prom at the Westin Lake Las Vegas.

“It’s a rarity, which is too bad,” Spatafore said. “It’s a huge event for them, being on the same level with their general education peers, and it gives them more confidence to say, ‘I’m a teenager and I’m a high schooler,’ which should be their first identity.”


Blake was born 18 years ago with 10p14 Trisonomy, a rare chromosomal abnormality.

“There’s been very little research done and few known cases,” said his mother, Brenda Hernandez. “His expectations were poor yet he overcame them.”

Her son had a ventriculoperitoneal shunt put in his head at age 3 to relieve the pressure on his brain that was caused by fluid accumulation. Four years later it was removed, and a metal piece was put in its place.

“If his brain ever swelled he would lose his balance or get headaches, which are indicators of water developing,” she said. “We’ve had no issues since he was 7 years old.”

She notes he does have “issues with fine motor skills and cognitive delays but other than that he’s healthy. He never gets sick and he has no pain. If he does have pain he’s always smiling so we wouldn’t know if he was in pain anyway.”

Larissa was born premature at 23 weeks old, weighing 1 pound.

“She also has cerebral palsy, is developmentally delayed and she had a seizure disorder but has since grown out of it and hasn’t had one for five years,” said her mother, Kelly Evans. “Initially we were told she wouldn’t survive then we were told she wouldn’t walk and that she’d be blind and deaf.”

Learning her daughter had a disability was a lot to take in at first, she said.

“One of the problems is the doctors don’t tell you this stuff when you have these kinds of kids; they only tell you the good news, not the bad news,” Evans said. “After I left the hospital, another doctor told me she had cerebral palsy and that she’d never walk or talk. I carried her to the car and started hysterically crying. No one told me this was a possibility.”

When she called her husband, Glenn, he told her that it wasn’t fair to say that their daughter would never walk or talk because there are different spectrums to the disability.

“As a parent you listen and say, ‘OK, maybe she’ll never be able to do something,’ but you don’t give up until you know for sure,” Evans said. “That’s why she walks and does things now because we didn’t give up on her. She does the work and she’ll let us know when she can’t do something.”

Like the Evans family, the Hernandez family has never placed limits on Blake’s potential.

“What he has is what he has, and he’s the one writing this story,” she said. “He’s capable of doing a lot, and we don’t give up, either,” she said, noting his five siblings don’t treat him differently. “There are no limitations to being Blake just because he’s special because in our house he’s not special. He’s setting his own path and will continue to do so.”


Blake and Larissa first met a decade ago at James I. Gibson Elementary School in Henderson before he transferred to a private school and later relocated to Reno. The pair renewed their friendship last fall when Hernandez returned to the Las Vegas Valley.

Right after Blake asked Larissa to the prom Spatafore reached out to Evans to let her know her daughter would soon be in need of a prom dress.

“Jill asked Larissa what color dress she wanted, and she said purple,” Evans said. “After trying on about 50 dresses, it was purple.”

Blake said he got a purple tie to match his prom date.

“My tux looks like a big suit,” he said the night before the prom. “I have a white shirt, pants, shoes, a purple tie and I’m wearing my vest underneath.”

As if the excitement of going to the prom wasn’t enough, the couple learned they were named prom king and queen by their special education peers.

“I was very happy,” Larissa said.

While it was shocking for Brenda Hernandez to learn her son had been named prom king, it also seemed very natural.

“That’s the way it should be, I guess, because I think it’s the most correct thing,” she said. “… and they deserve that recognition because they’re them.”

Basic Academy senior and prom committee chair DeJeigh Herrera said her teacher received a call from a special education teacher wondering whether the school wanted to return this year to an earlier tradition of having an additional crowning of a prom king and queen named from among the school’s special education students.

“The school used to elect special education students as prom king and queen before I went to school there, and it’s awesome to bring it back and do it again,” she said. “We’re bringing back a tradition that got lost.”

Herrera said Larissa and Blake participated in a special crowning ceremony at prom on Saturday evening in front of more than 400 of their peers.

This year’s prom theme was “Forever Neverland,” Herrera said.

“It’s the last big event before you graduate so it’s the moment when people start to realize it’s almost over so we need to enjoy it and live in the moment,” she said, explaining how the theme was chosen. “It’s all about living in the moment and not worrying about growing up.”

Herrera added that she couldn’t be more excited for Blake and Larissa.

“I hope they’re as happy as everyone is for them and that (being prom king and queen) made their prom experience so much better,” she said. “They deserve it.”

The couple also will attend Joy Prom, an event for teenagers with cognitive and physical disabilities, on May 7 at M Resort.

While both Blake and Larissa are graduating Basic Academy in June, Larissa will stay at least one more year with Spatafore.

“Most of my students are over the academics and just want to go to job sites, but she loves to learn and she reads and writes,” Spatafore said of Evans. “She thrives on the academics, and she wants to keep learning.”

“The minute I put the light on to wake her up in the morning, she bolts up,” Larissa’s mother confirmed. “She loves school that much.”

Blake said he’d like to become an RV salesman.

That may be in the cards, his mother said.

“Ideally, we want to own a motor home park because he could be an assistant,” Hernandez said. “We’ve been looking along the coast, and we want to let him be in charge of part of it. That’s the plan for now.”

Although the immediate future is planned out, Hernandez said she’s unsure of what the long-term future holds for her son, though it’s something she thinks about often.

Someone once asked if he’ll get married someday or whether he’ll have children, and Hernandez said she responded she didn’t know.

“The time might come when we need to think about that but it hasn’t come yet,” she said.

Still, Hernandez acknowledged, “You have to think about the future, and while a lot of people say, ‘Let’s live in the here and now,’ with a child like this, you can’t. You need to know what’s happening in the future.”

But on the night before the prom, thoughts of the future took a backseat to the young couple’s eager anticipation for the special event.

“I’m excited,” Larissa and Blake said in unison Friday night.

The big event lived up to expectations, Evans said.

“They had so much fun, they didn’t want to leave,” she said late Saturday.

Blake and Larissa weren’t the only ones who had the time of their lives. Evans and Hernandez celebrated too.

“We both had tears in our eyes,” Evans said. “Brenda said she felt grateful that the kids were recognized. I was in awe of them and so happy to see the joy on their faces.”

Contact reporter Ann Friedman at or 702-380-4588. Follow @AnnFriedmanRJ on Twitter.

Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
The world's longest racetrack could be coming to Pahrump
Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump might be the first racetrack in the world longer than 16 miles long once the expansion is complete. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Gold Point townsperson talks about why he choose to live in a ghost town
Gold Point townsperson Walt Kremin talks about the ghost town in Nevada he calls home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Search for missing 3-year-old boy at Sunset Park
Las Vegas police and Red Rock Search and Rescue team search for a missing child at Sunset Park in southeast Las Vegas on Sunday, Sept.2, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks at Las Vegas tech conference
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in Pakistan after advocating for girls' education, spoke at VMworld 2018 at Mandalay Bay. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren addresses Oct. 1 lawsuits
MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren addresses criticism his company has received for filing a lawsuit against the survivors of the Oct. 1 shooting. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father recalls the night his 14-year-old son died jumping into moving traffic
From the Clark County Detention Center, Ezequiel Anorve Serrano talks about the night his 14-year-old son, Silas Anorve, died jumping into moving traffic on U.S. 95. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Palace Station unveils new sports book
Palace Station talks about the new sports book Thursday, August 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
One of world's longest racetracks planned in Pahrump by 2020
The racetrack will be 16 miles long by the year 2020 according to Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club owner John Morris. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Henderson police bodycam footage of officer-involved shooting
Henderson police released body-worn camera footage of an officer-involved shooting in a grocery store parking lot at 2667 Windmill Parkway on Aug. 12, 2018. (Henderson Police Department)
Robotics takes off at Las Vegas Academy
Las Vegas Academy’s robotics team made it all the way to the world competition last year, the first year the team competed. Zackary Perry describes how they programmed their robot to compete. The team is an example of what Tesla wants to have in every school in the state. (Meghin Delaney/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bicyclist suffers major head trauma in hit-and-run
A bicyclist was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after a Thursday morning hit-and-run crash near the school formerly known as Agassi Prep. Police said the bicyclist was hit by a white SUV, which fled the scene. The injured man suffered multiple injuries including major head trauma. As of 9 a.m., Lake Mead remained closed between Martin Luther King and Revere Street while police investigate.
Las Vegas artist Dave Dave dies at 42
Dave Dave talks about his art and his life in 2016. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dave Dave, whose dad set him on fire in 1983, dies
Dave Dave, a respected Las Vegas artist who was badly scarred as a boy when his father tried to burn him to death in Southern California, died at Sunrise Hospital on July 15. He was 42. When he was 6, Dave's father tried to kill him by setting him on fire. He was given a sleeping pill and his bed at a Buena Park, California, motel was doused with kerosene. “I remembered being in a lot of pain,” Dave told the Review-Journal in 2016. “When stuff happens to you at that young of an age, you tend to block it out, but I remember the pain was excruciating.” Dave, who was born David Rothenberg, became close friends with Michael Jackson, who met him after the attack, which burned more than 90 percent of his body. “I wanted to meet him, and he wanted to meet me, and that just turned into a lifelong relationship that never ended,” Dave said. “It was amazing being friends with Michael Jackson. He was an amazing person.” Dave attended ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, and collaborated with various artists around Las Vegas, eventually selling his art to private collectors. Despite his challenges, he continued to live, thrive and create. Dave Dave
Homicide detectives investigate woman's death
Las Vegas police were called to Tahiti Village Resort early Wednesday after calls that someone had been shot. Police found a woman’s body between a parking garage and boiler room on the resort's property. A guest first reported hearing gunfire. There are no witnesses, but police will examine surveillance videos and look for clues. The woman was not identified, but a purse was found near the body. She did not appear to be a guest at the resort.
LVMPD Discusses Ross Dress for Less Shooting
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank discussed the 15th officer-involved shooting of the year at a press conference at Metro headquarters on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The active-shooter incident took place at the Ross Dress for Less store at the 4000 block Blue Diamond Road in the south Las Vegas Valley. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County School Board president Deanna Wright on travel expenses
Clark County School Board President Deanna Wright says she followed proper expense protocol in trip to Florida last year.
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Shooting leaves 1 dead in southeast valley
A man was found fatally shot in the doorway of a squatter apartment after an argument ended in gunfire on Sunday night. Officers responded about 10:30 p.m. to the Silver Pines apartments and discovered the man in a breezeway in one of the buildings. The wounded man died at the scene, despite the efforts of another person, who tried to administer medical aid. Witnesses saw a man and a woman flee the scene, but were unable to give police a clear description.
North Las Vegas unveils new school crosswalk
North Las Vegas councilman Isaac Barron talks about the new school crosswalk in front of CP Squires Elementary School Monday, August 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
LVMPD Briefing on OIS #13
Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly held a press conference to discuss details of the 13th officer-involved-shoot for the department in 2018. Video shows the moments before the suspect was shot. The shooting, which has been edited out, occurred as the suspect lunged at an officer outside the apartment. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sedan and semitrailer collide in south Las Vegas
An early Wednesday morning crash has left one person in critical condition. A sedan and semitrailer collided around 4 a.m. at the corner of Spencer Street and Serene Avenue. Police do not believe impairment is a factor in the crash. Spencer has been blocked off north of Serene while police continue their investigation.
Cybersecurity Professionals Flock to Las Vegas for Black Hat
Black Hat USA, the largest annual cybersecurity conference, is expecting a record 17,000 attendees during its six-day run at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center this week. One thing attendees have in mind is making sure they don't get hacked while they're there. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police chase ends with suspects captured in east Las Vegas
An early Tuesday morning chase ended with a car crash in an east Las Vegas neighborhood. Police were pursuing the vehicle, which they say was involved in robberies in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, when the driver crashed at Owens and Statz Street. A man was taken into custody. A woman was ejected from a vehicle and taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The intersection at Mojave Road and Owens Avenue was shut down while police officers searched for the suspect and investigated. The intersection will remain closed for most of the morning.
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like