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Ippolito Elementary School celebrated Down Syndrome Awareness Month in style – with a fashion show and fundraiser.
ESE Specialist Kaleena McQueen-Jones felt it was important for students to learn more about their classmates with Down Syndrome and organized the school’s first Down Syndrome Awareness Month event.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years, working with students with disabilities. There’s nothing “down” about it. Students are full of personality, joy and talent,” said McQueen-Jones.
Students’ bright personalities lit up the cafeteria while walking the runway during the fashion show that was packed with wardrobe changes and plenty of dance moves.
Among the participants was student Craig Woodard, Jr. who strutted his stuff down the catwalk in a sharp-looking suit. His proud parents, Craig and Christine, were in the audience to cheer him on.
“Our son 4 years ago, he was born with Down Syndrome. Having his school support Down Syndrome Awareness Month is absolutely incredible for us,” said his father, Craig Woodard, Senior. “He’s my hero. He is an angel. He loves to dance. He loves music. He has a great personality. He’s just the perfect child for us.”
After his son’s diagnosis, Woodard founded the Down Syndrome Association of Tampa Bay. Classes at Ippolito Elementary competed in a penny challenge to raise money for the nonprofit organization.
“To come in and see the fundraiser going on, to see the fashion show, it’s just really phenomenal and touches really near to our hearts,” said Woodard.
Woodard said the mission of the Down Syndrome Association of Tampa Bay is “to educate and advocate for individuals blessed with Down Syndrome with purpose, passion and the utmost integrity.” He believes school is the perfect place to teach students about the genetic disorder.
“The education portion of this at a school, where education is prevalent, is very deep. It can reduce bullying. It can let the other typical children know that these kids are the same as you, and letting them know what Down Syndrome is,” said Woodard.
There are three types of Down Syndrome: translocation, mosaicism, and the most common form of Down Syndrome is trisomy 21. A child with trisomy 21 has an extra 21st copy of the chromosome, which gives them 47 chromosomes.
Woodard said it can cause “physical delay and mental delay. They’re going to get there, but it may take them a little longer.”
“When they see people who are different than them, do not stare. Embrace those people. Encourage them to do whatever it is that they set their minds to do. We want to educate our students, so our students can educate their parents as well as their friends,” said McQueen-Jones. “I think we can change the world, one person at a time.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with Down Syndrome, making it the most common chromosomal condition. About 6,000 babies with Down Syndrome are born in the United States each year.
“If we can spread awareness like this through all of the schools in the month of October, this would be absolutely wonderful, and I’d love to be involved,” Woodard said.
The Down Syndrome Association of Tampa Bay is a support group for expectant parents who receive a positive diagnosis for Down Syndrome and are there for those families before and after birth.
Woodard hopes with each step the students take down the runway, everyone is a step closer to a better understanding about Down Syndrome and embracing inclusion. “Hug them. Tell them you love them, because they feel the same about you,” Woodard said.
For more information about the Down Syndrome Association of Tampa Bay, visit https://dsatb.org/
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