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Spingarn Celebrates Last Prom

Stacy M. Brown | 6/5/2013, 4 p.m.
Jacente Russell, a soon-to-be graduate of Spingarn High School, receives a wrist corsage from her date, Knico Wheato, as they prepare to attend her senior prom at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Northwest on Saturday, June 1. Photo by Shevry Lassiter

Like the best of parties, high school proms are a celebration of change, of endings and of new beginnings.

For Jacente Russell, a 17-year-old soon-to-be graduate of Spingarn Senior High School in Northeast, it is also about the dress.

“It’s a David’s Bridal made dress,” Jacente said proudly. “It’s black and sleek with diamonds and pearls [on the bodice].”

It’s a dress that retails between $120 and $550, but Jacente lucked out. She received the luxurious gown free at Operation Pretty and Polished.

Organizers and sponsors of the annual event, hosted by WPGC-FM (95.5), a CBS-owned radio station, provide attire to students to help ease the financial burdens of preparing for the prom.

This year, Operation Pretty and Polished served 300 students in April, who received assistance from celebrity shoppers in selecting their gowns and tuxedos.

“It is always a highlight not just for the students but for us, too,” said Justine Love of WPGC.

“The support we get for this is incredible and it’s very much worth it when you see the smiles on the faces of those young women and men who are able to get clothing to wear to the prom that they may otherwise have not been able to,” she said.

The free event is open to all high school seniors in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and more than 1,000 students have been glammed up by Operation Pretty and Polished during the five years the program has been in existence, Love said.

During the pre-prom event, students also are afforded the chance to discuss their hopes, dreams and aspirations as they move toward achieving their career goals.

“I plan to attend the University of Virginia and study for a career in criminal justice,” Jacente said.

“I want to be a crime scene investigator because I like science and I like being hands-on and finding out why and how things happen and how they work.”

For Jacente and others at the storied Spingarn Senior High School, which closes as a traditional school at the end of this month, the final prom – which was held June 1 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Northwest – was bittersweet and segued into what is sure to be an emotional month of goodbyes.

“It is kind of sad that this is the last prom and the last graduation at Spingarn,” said Jacente’s mother, Franswello Russell. “I’m proud that my daughter made it through and I’m proud to say that she is a Spingarn graduate.”

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson previously announced the closing of 15 District public schools, including Spingarn – the only high school on the list.

“While there have been strong reactions from the community to school closures, our top priority is to do what’s best for students,” Henderson said in a statement released in January.

“We heard from people across the city that have never reached out or offered feedback before. People spoke up at meetings, they sent emails, they called, and we made sure to track everything they said.”