Coming back as an alumna of Saint Joseph Catholic School to be part of the school’s staff was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made. I will forever be grateful for how SJS prepared me intellectually and spiritually, which has catapulted me into my ambitions and successes as I developed through life. I give SJS the credit on instilling in me qualities of every aspect of my well-being. SJS gave me a chance and the opportunity to learn in an environment enriched in faith, excellence, respect, and pride despite the challenges I presented them with.
They took me in when other schools did not and accepted me as a first grader who knew the bare minimum of English; I was different than the other students, but they took a chance on me. It is now as an adult and staff member of this school that I realize that they took me in because they saw the potential in me before I saw it myself. SJS became more than a school, but also a home where I was welcomed even though I was different and required more care and love from my teachers. SJS offers a place where all students belong.
Today Saint Joseph is still that and more. Here, students are not numbers or statistics. They are someone’s child whose parents want them to succeed in an environment that molds them into the individual they are capable of becoming – no matter what. One of the greatest living examples and role models we have is our beloved first-grade student, Olivia M. Three years ago, Olivia walked into the doors of the front office while holding her mother’s hand to speak to the school’s principal, JoAnn Telles. A few days after, Olivia was in our TK classroom sitting among her peers and following the directions of her teacher just like everybody else. Olivia quickly gained a reputation as the sweet, loving child that touched everyone’s heart with her smile. Before you knew it, Olivia was ending her first year at SJS and was enrolled in kindergarten for the next year. Before the year was out, JoAnn Telles called me into her office for a meeting regarding the upcoming year. After 20 minutes, I walked out that door both anxious and determined to excel in the new role I was given. I was asked to be Olivia’s one-on-one aide to support her and guide her throughout her upcoming years here at SJS.
Why did Olivia need a one-on-one aide? Olivia is our first Spartan with Down Syndrome, but here at SJS we renamed it “Love Syndrome,” because that is what radiates and properly describes our Olivia.
As someone that has never worked with a child with genuine needs, I was worried that I would not be able to offer what she would need from me. However, she ended up teaching me more about myself and has impacted my life forever, as well as surpassed all goals set for her. Above all, she has influenced her peers’ emotionally, and has developed something most say cannot be taught: empathy. Her classmates have gained a human skill that we see a lack of in today’s society – the ability to accept differences and show tolerance and genuine kindness toward others. Olivia’s classmates and all those around her have learned to love her without question, and have taken it upon themselves the responsibility to guide and support her throughout the school day.
It is truly inspiring to see young children care for someone they know may at times need redirection and extra support when it is rare to see that in adults today. It is without a doubt that because of Olivia’s impact on her peers these children will grow up to be active participants of tomorrow’s society, but better. They will develop into adults that know what it is to treat others with respect, to be patient, and to sacrifice with no benefit of their own, but the gratification of doing good before doing good for yourself.
As for me, Olivia has changed me into a person I can only give her credit for. I have grown to be more understanding, patient, motivated and I now see the joy in everything. Before, I would find myself lost in worries, doubt, and hesitation. Now, I work more passionately, smile more often, and work harder to better myself in order to help her succeed in school and in life. Olivia has shown me that no limits exist, even when you have medical researchers telling you otherwise. Her excellence and progress in first grade today is not because of me, but because of her persistence, commitment, and hard work; all qualities many say are not possible to possess when restrained by a medical diagnosis.
Olivia has surpassed all the hopes and wishes of our staff, and of myself. She is constantly raising the bar and proud of her ability to tackle a challenge without hesitation; without caring that it may take more effort and time, but rather she focuses on what is possible. Most of all, she has taught me that the only limits that can be placed on you are the ones you place on yourself. She proves that caring for someone and feeling for a person is more important than molding into society’s perception of perfect. Olivia is a gem at the school, and she flourishes within the walls and the arms of our students and educators that allow her to be exactly who she is.
Olivia is developing into the person God has planned for her to be: successful, radiant, determined, and loving. She has proven that SJS’s commitment to be accepting of all students regardless of the challenges that they may encounter is a worthy one. Saint Joseph School is a community that accepts all, understands all, and loves all of the differences of each child that arrives at its gate.