Sophie, my beautiful eight year old daughter, has Down syndrome. She goes to West Teays Elementary in Hurricane, WV. At the beginning of February, I asked if the school could recognize World Down Syndrome Day on March 21. I did not expect the school to do more than a small display.
On the same day I made the request, I received an email from Jana McGinnis, the school's vice principal. It started off with the sentence, "This is a wonderful idea." She said she would like to put up an educational display on the bulletin board in the front hallway of the school. Sophie already had bookmarks to hand out that day. My wife and I agreed that between the display and Sophie passing out the bookmarks, she would have a nice day.
About a week later, Ms. McGinnis contacted me. Since March 21 was on a Wednesday this year, she decided to have the display stay up the whole week and have the morning announcements include facts about Down syndrome. Of course, I was very happy about hearing this and told my wife I could not ask for more.
Soon, I found out that there was much more planned. As it turns out, Ms. McGinnis is very interested in people with special needs. She lives by the motto, "We Are More Alike Than Different." As was explained to me, this was an opportunity to teach the school what all people are capable of accomplishing. What resulted was a week-long celebration of Down syndrome. All the bulletin boards had displays. There were the facts about Down syndrome read to the students in the morning announcements. There was also a school assembly on Monday that included an explanation of Down syndrome, pictures, videos, and a remarkable woman, Missy Mitchell, who was interviewed by Ms. McGinnis. Ms. Mitchell has Down syndrome. She is also a teaching aide, a singer, a purse designer, and a self-advocate. I took off from work to attend the assembly. The feedback from the students was touching.
The next day, the students volunteered to take the pledge to end the derogatory use of the r-word. On Wednesday, Ms. McGinnis wanted to do something with this year's NDSS theme of doing something extra for World Down Syndrome Day to celebrate those with an extra 21st chromosome. The students could pay $1.00 to post a blue and yellow butterfly on the wall.
On Thursday, there was a door decorating contest. Each classroom's door was decorated to bring awareness about Down syndrome. On Friday the school had a walk-a-thon. Half of the proceeds of the walk-a-thon and the butterflies were scheduled to improve the playground for special needs students, the other half was to go to Down syndrome research. The students raised thousands of dollars. They also raised the spirits of the five children with Down syndrome that are students at the school. After the walk, a balloon was released in honor of each of those students.
My thanks and appreciation goes to Ms. McGinnis, the students, the faculty, and the staff of West Teays.