By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
The sound of students’ cheers that erupted during halftime at Thompson Reynolds Stadium on Oct. 22 was unexpected.
It was homecoming for the Vestavia Hills High School Rebels, and the student body provided a grand reaction as the announcers named senior Re’Gine Johnson homecoming queen.
She’s the school’s first student with special needs to be elected homecoming queen.
Classically, the homecoming queen is popular among students, and Johnson is no exception. Rumor around school is that Johnson won by a landslide.
“Everyone in the school knows Re’Gine,” VHHS Paraeducator Martha Dazzio said. “She’s kind. She’s not shy at all. She really puts herself out there, and she’s precious.”
Johnson also is the kind of person who speaks to everyone and makes a point to be welcoming to every student she meets.
Not only a social butterfly, Johnson is highly involved in her school activities.
“She’s the president of our outreach club,” Dazzio said.
The school’s Life Skills department partners with the club Rebel Up Outreach. Members are dedicated to raising awareness and acceptance for individuals with disabilities in the school community.
“She’s also active in the Young Life organization and an active member of her church, as well,” Dazzio said. “So, she’s a busy girl.”
Dazzio describes the moment of the announcement as something out of a movie.
“I’ve lived in Vestavia for my whole life … . I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “It was really a special time.”
It also was a complete surprise for the faculty save one, the teacher who sponsors the Student Government Association, which counts the ballots.
“She’s the first-ever homecoming queen with special needs, and she was voted by her peers,” Dazzio said. “Her friends voted for her.”
The effort was completely student led, with a group of Johnson’s senior peers coordinating the efforts to get her name listed with the top 12.
From that top 12, Johnson made it to the top five.
After the votes were taken but before the announcement was made, faculty in the Life Skills department had T-shirts made in Royal Blue that read Re’Gine for Queen.
About 80 shirts were made, and they sold out. Proceeds benefited the Life Skills department.
Broad School Support
“It was a hugely unifying thing for our school,” Dazzio said. “When the whole student body just erupted as they called her name, it was one of the coolest things.” And many in the audience were wearing their Re’Gine for Queen shirts.
Not only was the audience floored, Dazzio said Johnson’s parents were elated.
“They were absolutely so excited because they know how special Re’Gine is, and they just want everybody to see that,” she said.
The entire scene speaks to the broader goal of the school’s mantra.
“Our school is big on ‘One Rebel,’” Dazzio said. It’s a practice in character development, calling students to be inclusive in every aspect of their educational journey.
Classrooms are inclusive, with Life Skills students joining in on the same electives as many other kids.
While that unification and promotion of acceptance is vital for students in the Life Skills department, it goes both ways.
“It’s so important for these students to have kids with special needs involved in their everyday life as well,” Dazzio said.
According to Dazzio, Johnson has been riding high ever since the announcement, wearing her crown whenever she has the chance.
“She has worn it to school,” Dazzio said. “The homecoming dance was that Saturday night (Oct. 23), and she wore it to the dance also.”