'They love him': Grimsby students honour classmate on World Down Syndrome Day
On her son’s first day of class, Bonnie Jankowski was terrified. The mom of seven-year-old Austin thought he would get lost in the shuffle, sit back in the corner of the classroom, and be unable to interact with the other children.
“I was scared. I was terrified. I didn't want him to go,” Jankowski said. Austin is non-verbal and has Down syndrome. He started at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Elementary School in Grimsby a year ago. “He's a very quiet, content boy.”
But now, Jankowski said her son is a rock star and receives great support from the school. She said finding an in-class nurse and meeting the teacher, Christina McIntyre, made her feel more comfortable. McIntyre previously worked with Jankowski's daughter, who also has Down syndrome and is now in Grade 12.
“His classmates are amazing. His support at school is amazing,” Jankowski said, “and just that everybody was accepting of who he was and just being there and supporting him and many kids with Down syndrome.”
The Jankowskis saw that support first hand on March 21, World Down Syndrome Day. Grade 2 students at Our Lady of Fatima went big to mark the occasion with a special fundraiser.
Down syndrome means a baby is born with an extra copy of chromosome 21; if seen through a microscope, the chromosome resembles a sock. That’s when the idea of tie-dying socks and selling them for a fundraiser came to McIntyre and the other educators in the class.
Before March break, the teacher ordered a box of socks, and the class went to work, dyed them and sold 304 pairs to the school community. They raised more than $1,500, and proceeds went to the Down Syndrome Niagara foundation on behalf of Austin.
“The kids absolutely adore Austin. I think they're fantastic with him. They love him,” said McIntyre.
Jankowski believes society has “come a long way” in being accepting of everybody that has Down syndrome and said no one should be afraid to ask questions about it. “A lot of us parents, especially young ones, are going to answer those questions for you to make you feel a little bit more comfortable about someone being around someone that has Down syndrome or any type of special needs.”
Sitting on the board for Down Syndrome Niagara, Jankowski said she felt overwhelmed when she heard about the fundraiser.
“We have never really had anybody do that before. It was kind of overwhelming and emotional,” said Jankowski.
Having Austin be a part of the classroom, as opposed to segregated out, helps him to fit in with the other students, she said.
“You can tell he loves being there. He smiles, and he’s got that recognition of everybody being there.”
Beatriz Baleeiro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News