Back to School by Christy Klaus

Whether you can’t wait to get them on the bus or you have the back to school blues, there are things you can do to help your child with Down syndrome transition back into the school year.

Getting your Student Ready for School

  • Create before school/after school routines – use a checklist with pictures or words to help your child become as independent as possible in getting ready for school as well as after school.  This list can include things like putting on clothes, eating breakfast, brushing teeth. After school list might include snack time, homework time, reading.  Use rewards for completing tasks and to keep your child motivated.
  • Visit the classroom/school ahead of time.  Show your child the important places and how to get there (locker, cafeteria, nurse, bathroom, gym)
  • Introduce your child to his/her teachers and other important school personnel before school starts. Get the e-mail address of each one. Take pictures of each teacher.
  • Create a social story (using the pictures) about going back to school.
  • Create a document about your child (include basic family/contact info, interests, accomplishments, effective social and behavioral strategies). Share this with all teachers/school personnel.
  • Have your child or help your child create something they can share about their summer (using pictures and/or words).

Getting your School Ready for Your Student

Communicating with Your Child’s Team – Regular communication with your child’s team is crucial to success in the classroom.

  • Who -   Teachers, Special Educators, Paraprofessional, Therapists, Nurse, Counselor
  • What – Share information about your child, any support plans, “Supporting the Student with Down Syndrome – Information for Teachers”, summary of IEP goals, DSAGSL seminars and conferences
  • How -   Communicate using a Home/School notebook or binder, e-mail, team meetings, or individual meetings
  • When – Weekly e-mails to the team on Sunday night/Monday morning, if issues are developing intervene early, in May – discuss transition to the next grade, in August – meet new teachers, share information about Ds

If you have specific questions regarding back to school or the resources listed here, please contact our office at (314)961-2504.

Gardening for All by Jeanne Carbone

This blog was written by a representative from the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Digging in the dirt, planting a seed, searching for a color in the garden, sitting very still to see the action of a butterfly….these are all a part of the joy of gardening.  Gardening is, simply put, an interaction between a person and a plant.  That interaction does not require an extensive knowledge of horticulture or a complete set of the best tools but rather what is needed is a desire to engage and a “living” space. 

A child with a disability has the ability to use their senses on many levels to make a connection in the garden.   Encourage a child to make observations by touching, smelling, looking, listening and yes, tasting.

  • Rub a leaf to notice the texture…..soft, smooth, sticky, “hairy”
  • Pick a seed pod and shake it to see if it makes noise
  • Rub the leaves of an herb and smell your fingers
  • Pick a few mint leaves, wash them and taste where the flavor of gum comes from
  • Use color samples to find matching colors in the garden

What better way to connect a child to the garden than to make it their own?  Planting a few seeds of basil in a pot and being responsible for their care can be the start of a lifetime of gardening, for children and parents.  Once a seed is planted, have the child check the soil with their finger everyday…..is it wet or dry?  Water as needed and as the plant grows, talk about what is happening.  The stem is getting taller, leaves start budding, the leaves have a smell to them.  Create a journal to track the growth of your plant and before you know it, basil will be in your dinner.   Harvesting from a plant that your child started from seed is what gardening is all about!

Give me an “H!” – by Nate Jones

Permission to post this article was given by Helias High School.  Article was written by Nate Jones, a reporter for the Crusader Raid Newspaper.

I was asked to write an article about Elijah for our school paper. I’ve known him since first grade so I knew I could write a glowing article about him but then I got to thinking about how many people know him like I do and could write a great piece on him. So with this in mind I asked the seniors, Helias staff, and some of his other friends to say something to him. The responses I got were overwhelming and I’d like to share them in the following narrative.

Elijah Mayfield came from Saint Peter where he loved and was loved by his class. Eighth grade teacher Val Jones said, “People always compliment how well behaved that class is and how much they all get along. I think Elijah was the cornerstone of that.” But after Saint Peter most of the class would go to Helias, but Helias didn’t have a program for special needs kids such as Elijah. The Mayfields eventually worked out a plan for Elijah to attend Helias. When asked why they wanted Elijah at Helias, Todd Mayfield, Elijah’s dad, said, “We chose Helias because of Elijah’s St. Peter classmates. K-8 was great for him and it just made sense for Elijah to spend four years with his buddies before they all went to college. We were able to send him there because of how well his eighth grade class got along with him. They gave us the courage to send him there. We never dreamed he would be as well received as he was. It was a huge milestone in Elijah’s life.”

John Rhea, one of Elijah’s St. Peter classmates said, “I’ve been friends with “Mayf” since kindergarten, and there hasn’t been one day he hasn’t made me smile. He’s the most enthusiastic kid I know, who has the most Sader spirit in the school. I remember we were driving home late from a football game on the bus, about 1 O’clock in the morning, and all of a sudden you hear, ‘GIVE ME AN H!’ He never loses energy, and has a love for Helias like no one else. I’ll never forget his post-game talks after a win, and his jump hugs into the crowds!”

John wasn’t alone in getting pumped up by Elijah during sports events. Sports would actually become one of Elijah’s defining roles at Helias. He managed three teams during his four years at Helias. In particular he was a huge presence during the football season. Elijah energized the team before the game. “When he yells ‘say it loud boys, say it loud’ before a game it really pumps up the team! He helps get our heads in the game!” commented senior Holden Hirsch. He is also getting the crowd pumped up during the game by carrying on the legacy of Leon Vanderfeltz with the classic, “GIVE ME AN H” cheer. Elijah not only pumped up the crowd but also helped out the players. “If I came off the field after a bad play I could always count on Elijah to be waiting with a pat on the back and some words of encouragement,” said senior Christian Hake.

Elijah also made an impression on the coaching staff. Coach Andy Pitts said about him, “He is genuinely happy to see you and see you do well. He really appreciates your presence.” Head Coach Phil Pitts said, “There are so many ways to judge whether someone is a success, but I think one of the greatest ways is to look at someone and ask – ‘Do they have enthusiasm, passion, and love for what they do?’  There is no doubt that Elijah has these things and he teaches us all that we can and should have these things!  Many people tell me that the above three things are some of my greatest attributes, but I can’t hold a candle to Elijah when it comes to enthusiasm, passion, and love!  He teaches me those things and for that I will always be grateful and remember Elijah!  He is everything this school stands for and he is a true Helias Crusader!”

When Coach Pitts said he is a true Helias Crusader he meant it. It seemed like every one of his fellow Saders had something to say whether it be staff or student.

The following are just some of the quotes I received about Elijah: Senior Merlin Phelps said, “I remember when we cleaned the school together one summer. We became good buddies. He is the one who started calling me Mer.”

Mr. Martin said, “If he can tell I’m having a difficult day he shakes my hand and says ‘Mr. Martin I love you!’” It turns my day cheery!”

One of his classmates Alex Schwinke simply commented, “I appreciate his big hugs!” When Senior Jared Rackers tore his ACL Elijah checked up on him every day of school to see how the healing process was going.  “He is very sympathetic to anyone with an injury!” said Rackers.

Jacob Schulte said, “He calls me coz (short for cousin) and he is the loudest one cheering at my wrestling matches!”

Secretary Peggy Rogers got to know Elijah when he helped her out in the office. She said, “Elijah is the true meaning of a real friend. He can be ornery but is always a lot of fun. I’m glad he was here the last four years.”

Elijah was not only well loved by his graduating class. Even freshman like Dane Borovicka say, “He is awesome!” Senior Brooke Harms said, “I’m pretty sure if you lined up the whole student body he could work his down the line naming every single person.”

One of Elijah’s best friends from grade school Becky Roberts has many fond memories of him, “He was getting interviewed by KOMU and they asked him about love. He said he loved me and we were going to get married, but it was going to be kind of a pretend marriage!”

Another one of his best friends Brock Gerstner said, “Elijah Mayfield. Just that name can bring a smile to anyone’s face, especially mine. Elijah has a special gift that nobody else that I know has. He can always bring a smile to your face. He is the most joyful, caring, funny, genuine person I have ever met and I know how lucky I am to be able to call him my best friend.”

Senior Baylee Francka agreed with Brock saying, “I have absolutely loved getting to know Elijah over the last four years! Every time I’m around him, I leave with a smile on my face. He genuinely loves everyone he meets and he is such a blessing to Helias and to the community.” There were plenty of other great quotes about him but for the sake of length I think all the quotes said an unsaid illustrate the point that senior Abbie Verslues said, “Elijah truly embodies the heart and spirit of Helias.

I told the Mayfields about this article and Pam Mayfield, Elijah’s mother, wrote a note showing that not only do we love Elijah and all he has done for us but they are appreciative us as well. I thought it appropriate to end with that note: “Helias faculty, coaches, teammates and parents, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for what you have done for our family. Eighteen years ago when Elijah was born, I was scared. I was scared for us and for him. I didn’t have a clue as to how to raise this child I had been given. I was afraid that he wouldn’t have friends, that people wouldn’t accept him, that he wouldn’t have a good life. But, Elijah is having a great life and you all are a huge part of that. You have treated him like a classmate, teammate, a friend. You have given him opportunities that I never thought were possible for him. From his time at St. Peter to his time here at Helias, you have made a difference in his life forever. He has friends, friends that look out for him. His phone has more contacts in it than I can even begin to imagine having. He has friends that call and text him all the time. He has been part of assemblies, had his own team gear, road on team buses and been able to cheer on his very favorite team in the whole wide world…his Helias Crusaders. None of this would have been possible without the coaches, teachers, students and parents being willing to allow Elijah to share in their school, their teams. I know it wasn’t always easy to include him, but you all did. You made sacrifices so he could be a part of Helias. As his classmates look to their future and what college and career they might choose, I just want them to understand what they have done for our family. They have helped Elijah to have a great life, we will forever be grateful to you all for allowing him to be part of Helias Catholic High School.”

The USA Games – by Lindsey Hawkins

I was nervous about going on the plane for my first time, but I conquered my fears and did it for my brother’s dog, Bentley.

At the opening ceremony, it was amazing! They had loud music, bright lights and it was outstanding. We walked on the stage with Team Missouri. It was an amazing night.

The games started on Monday with average scores in bowling. Then, on Tuesday it was competing day for singles. I made the top three. It was an amazing day for me, and on the same day I won one of my medals for third place in singles.

The doubles in bowling competition was on Wednesday. I was paired with Tiffany for the doubles competition, and we got another medal.  It was a third place medal, and I am proud of it.  We also got flowers with any medals we received!

On Thursday, was the team bowling, and I bowled a score of 150. I also bowled a 167 game and a 165 game. Another day in team bowling, I bowled with a very good partner and we got another third place medal.

On Thursday evening, we went on a cruise, boat ride. The boat was fancy, big and I saw the Statue of Liberty in New York City.  It was beautiful and special at sundown.

Friday was awards ceremony for team bowling and I came in third place for the nation.

This was my first time in New Jersey, and it was an awesome adventure for me to compete in bowling. I met new friends when I was on the journey.  At the end of my trip I came back to St. Louis with three medals from the USA Games, and I am very proud of myself for winning and following my dreams. My medals are so heavy, and I am proud! I am a true champion and an athlete in this sport.

At the closing ceremony, they take down the flag for the last time say goodbyes.  We are all champions in our sport, and I can’t wait for next time!

About Lizzie – by Lizzie Diehr

Lizzie Diehr is one of our awesome, self-advocate volunteers at the DSAGSL Office.  She has returned for the summer to help us out!  Below is a message from Lizzie.

Hello, my name is Lizzie Diehr.  I am very pretty.

I play sports with Special Olympics including soccer, baseball and basketball.  I also swim with my Dad and my nieces and nephews.
Each Monday, I go to Art Class.  I love to paint and draw.

I am going to camp this summer, and I like to hang out with my friends.

I volunteer at St. John’s Mercy on Mondays and at the DSAGSL on Thursdays. I love to eat hot wings, potato wedges and fruit.

Now you know a little more about me!

You Can Never Be too Prepared – by Chelsey Klenke, DSAGSL Summer Intern

Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis hosted an emergency preparedness meeting for individuals with disabilities on April 15th.  We learned it is important to have a plan in place to know what needs to be done in the event of an emergency.  Going through practice drills and having conversations on what to do before an emergency takes place is key.

Here are some tips on how to prepare for emergencies:
-Have conversations with family members frequently about what should be done in emergency situations

-Create an emergency kit that includes items such as clothes, hygiene supplies, food, etc., for every member in your family including pets

-Have a plan on where to get information about further warnings

-Decide on a meeting place for your family members should you have to evacuate

-Look at Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on 3 steps to prepare of an emergency

To find more tips on emergency preparedness, click here.

Step Up for Down Syndrome 2014 – this Sunday!

Letter from Jeremie Ballinger, Executive Director

Dear Friends:

This letter reaches you as we’re gearing up for the biggest day in the St. Louis Down syndrome community.  Step Up for Down Syndrome is just around the corner on June 8 at Forest Park!

If you haven’t been to SUDS…well, why not?  Our volunteers and staff have worked hard over the years to make our Step Up walk a wonderful experience for everyone involved.  We also have a couple new surprises planned this year that you’ve never seen at SUDS before!

Why Step Up this year, or any year, you ask?  It’s pretty simple. This walk is responsible for nearly half of the support DSAGSL counts on every year.  In other words:

-  Because of this walk, we welcome dozens of new families to our organization every year with information, baskets, events and a supporting community that cares.

-   Because of this walk, we’ve trained over 100 teachers this year and are planning to take our training to several new communities in 2014.  We’re also going to educate more doctors, nurses and other medical staff than we ever have.
-  Because of this walk, self-advocates will learn to ride a bike for the first time – and at a younger age than we’ve ever offered.  They’ll play sports. They’ll learn healthy habits and behaviors. They’ll lobby more than ever for laws that benefit them.
- And because of this walk, you’ll see info in this newsletter about new programming for toddlers, teens and adults at our office this summer and fall.  Our vision has always been to be the most comprehensive resource for individuals with Down syndrome. It’s finally happening thanks to you walking with us!

The other vitally important reason to attend SUDS is that this walk is the largest awareness event our city has for children and adults with Down syndrome.  It’s our best chance to show St. Louis that individuals with Down syndrome are loving, talented, kind-hearted people who change every person fortunate enough to cross their path.  This comes as no surprise to all of the advocates, parents, siblings and friends who read this newsletter.  But not everyone gets it.  SUDS is our chance to make that statement in a big way.

Hope to see you there!