Furthering the idea of success stories, I came acrioss this story on one of my friend's newsfeeds on Facebook. I knew Jan in highschool, and even worked with a few teachers on creating an afterschool Eco Club where Jan, and other students with Special Needs, joined, came out and we had fun. Again, a heart-warming, and beautiful success story that doesn't come without its challenges....but she's doing so very well, and contributing to our world so beautifully.
PICKERING -- There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Jan Heeney belongs in a feature series about inspiring people. Unless, maybe, there’s a smidgen of doubt in the mind of Jan Heeney herself.
“She’s very excited,” says Mike O’Neill, principal at Father Fenelon Catholic School in Pickering, on the November morning that a visitor arrives at the school for an interview with Jan.
But not even her resume of accomplishments, impressive enough for anyone let alone a woman with Down syndrome, can do true justice to the engaging spirit who awaits.
She’s found in the school library, her domain, where she’s volunteered for years and where she’s regarded as a staff member by teachers and students. Her face breaks into a warm smile at the sight of the principal approaching.
A decorated Special Olympian, she counts among her talents synchronized swimming, gymnastics, track and field, and five-pin bowling -- perhaps taking after her Hall of Famer father Walter in that sport -- competing in and out of the province. Recently, she’s taken to the stage at the Abilities Centre in Whitby, where being part of an improv drama class, including a public performance in the role of a cat, has sparked an interest in acting. Named by the Durham Catholic District School Board in 2013 as a distinguished alumni, Jan was recently a speaker at the Abilities Centre when its field house was renamed for the late Jim Flaherty, and spoke to 500 people about her experiences with the drama group. (“That didn’t faze her one bit,” her mother Catherine said in a later phone conversation).
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What an immense privilege to have Ms Killoran in our class, and attend one of her workshops. Her absolute confidence and knowledge of students with Autism I find awe inspiring. She managed to bring so much new knowledge to me about students with autism, and gave me a sense of: it's all going to be okay...especially when I think of certain students whom I teach. A professional I know I can rely on for help down the road...
Working with a student with Down Syndrome this year is a first in my teaching career, and it has opened my eyes to a beautiful world. The student is such a joyous wonder in the room, and his mother has been so thankful and supportive of the supports, and opportunities given to her son. It's been a great learning curve in planning for this student, and seeing little steps, and observing him interact with various medium and materials during our art classes. Many times I wish I could do more, but when his contagious smile catches you in the hall, and you see him learning little milestones...you figure you're doing okay. He's happy...he's learning...let's keep the momentum going.
The afternoon of the behind the scenes work, I'm not going to lie, gave me a bit of anxiety. Seeing all of Lori's knowledge of all the logistics and legalities of the paperwork was the main source of this. I know that she's been at this for a while, and she was great in sharing her early experiences with me, and clearly stated that it was a complete learning curve, and that you do rely on your PST colleagues for support. I can't stress how lucky Melissa is to be working along side Lori, and can safely assume that Lori has been an immense help in Melissa's learning curve, which no doubt she would attest to. That support system is so key, and if I do pursue being a PST, i guess I really would take the idea that everyone wants a personal connection--you're not a number, or a diagnosis--you're a child of God with many talents and abilities, who needs some help in some areas of schooling.
Laura just opened my eyes to what student success truly means. An eloquent, brilliant young lady who has faced and triumphed over many struggles, she is an inspiration to us all. Her story will forever be tucked in my memory, and my gratitude to her as she was the main reason we got SmartBoards in our rooms, and that is basically my right hand in my classroom teaching...I can't imagine being in a class without one--much better than the IVPs in my opinion, but that's another story. I wonder about her career as a teacher, and the struggles and backlash she may face--a teacher who can't read..this will be interesting, but I have no doubt she will succumb those obstacles and critiques with grace and will survive.
I first came across this cartoon and idea through my Concurrent Education at York--Jerry Diakiw was the professor, and he had his own set of learning disabilities. he encouraged us to "unpack" our own personal backpacks --our schema that had been formed up to that point about teaching and learning--and challenged us to think different.