Once upon a time, in a castle far, far away, hundreds of princes and princesses came together for a ball.

Technically, once upon a time was Tuesday. The faraway castle was the gymnasium at Kennesaw Mountain High School. And the ball for royalty was an annual dance for Cobb County students with special needs.

Kennesaw Mountain High students have been hosting the annual dance since 2001. This year, more than 400 students with special needs came from across Cobb County, and about 200 students from the school acted as mentors for the day. This year’s theme: “Once Upon a Time at the Mountain.”

With the theme "Once Upon a Time at the Mountain," student mentors from Kennesaw Mountain High School welcomed hundreds of students with special needs to an annual party on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. (Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

“It’s just such a joyous time,” said Amory Brown, a junior at Kennesaw Mountain High who helped organize the event. “It brings us all together. Because at the end of the day, we’re one — we’re one school, we’re one group, we’re one community.”

Kennesaw Mountain students participate in a character education program throughout the year to learn the importance of helping others. It prepares the students to act as mentors. The student council takes the lead on organizing the event itself. This year, the gym and red carpet entrance were decorated with storybook characters like Pinocchio, Captain Hook, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and the Three Little Pigs.

There was a feast (in the form of a snack table), battles (of the dance variety) and general merriment. Students with special needs — some dressed in school shirts, some wearing dresses — found dance partners in the Kennesaw Mountain students wearing blue event T-shirts. They did the “Y.M.C.A.” and the “Cupid Shuffle” dances, hyped one another up in dance circles and formed a conga line big enough to circle the room.

The event was livestreamed to involve even elementary students with special needs in the festivities.

The best part of the day is seeing how everyone interacts with one another, said Kennesaw Mountain High Principal Nathan Stark.

“There’s kind of a sense of respect and I’d almost say love for these kids when they come in,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s a memory that lasts for a long, long time.”