Photo by James A. McBride
Kathleen Spadaro poses for a photo with her family on June 7, the day she graduated from Our Lady of Hope School in Blackwood. Pictured from left are her brother Patrick, sister Molly, mother Robin, Kathleen, father Jerry Sr. and brother Jerry Jr. Kathleen, who has Down syndrome, is planning to attend Camden Catholic High School, Cherry Hill, in the fall.
Kathleen Spadaro wanted to go to the same school as her older sister and two older brothers, and that presented her parents with a difficult decision.
Should they send her to Our Lady of Hope Regional School in Blackwood, or to a school that routinely enrolls students with Down syndrome?
At Lady of Hope there would be worries about Kathleen learning in a mainstream classroom setting, and about being accepted by other children. And would she have the determination to work as hard as she needed to keep up?
“We decided to try it, and go year by year,” said Robin Spadaro, Kathleen’s mother, who works part time at the school as a counselor. “She wanted to be here so badly.”
Although her parents had occasional periods of doubt, Kathleen never did.
“We would ask Kathleen how she felt about going to a different school and she would always answer, ‘Nothing is going to stop me from graduating from my school. Not even you, Mom,'” Robin recalled.
The Spadaros felt reassured they made the right decision when they saw their daughter wearing her light blue cap and gown and accepting her diploma on June 7.
She made the school’s Honor Roll (earning As and Bs) every year, and was a straight A student her last marking period, putting her on the Principal’s List. In the fall she will attend Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill.
The current trend in education, according to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), is to fully include children with Down syndrome in the social and educational life of the community. Still, the challenges of grammar school are hard enough for any child: they have to learn to leave their parents, sit quietly at a desk, keep up with homework and study for tests, deal with peer pressure – not to mention survive the turmoil of adolescence. For a child with cognitive delays to succeed is no small accomplishment.
“She has had to work 100 times harder than her classmates,” said Marcy Robinson, the school’s technology teacher.
Kathleen is legally blind without her glasses. She missed class the first six weeks of second grade because she needed open heart surgery. She occasionally has the help of a classroom aide and has an ISP (Individualized Service Plan). (Mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, an ISP is a document that identifies education strategies and goals for a student with a disability.)
When she began school as a kindergartener, Kathleen did not understand the difference between her abilities and those of the average student. That realization, and frustration, came later – along with a drive to be as much like other students as possible. Robin noted, for example, that Kathleen might have fewer homework questions than the rest of the class but she would often push herself to do “what the other kids do.”
Kathleen is proud of graduating and aware that some people didn’t think she would be able to do it. She said she hopes she can help change their thoughts about people with Down syndrome and what they are able to do. She said she wants people to know that people with disabilities are able to do more than anyone can imagine.
On Kathleen’s last day of eighth grade, as the children were cleaning their classroom, ready for summer vacation before taking the next step in their education, Robin expressed her gratitude to the faculty at Our Lady of Hope, and to her older children who have always been supportive of Kathleen over the years.
And of Kathleen, Robin said, “She is amazing if I say so myself.”