Down Syndrome Guild honors Holy Cross reading teacher for her work
by Jessica Langdon
OVERLAND PARK — As reading specialist at Holy Cross School here, Jeanine Schneider constantly builds up her students’ vocabulary.
But when a major honor came her way this spring, the only word that came to Schneider’s mind was: “Wow.”
The Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City surprised Schneider with a Commitment to Excellence award for her support of individuals with Down syndrome.
The family of one of her students, sixth-grader Bella DeBrevi, nominated her.
Bella has Down syndrome, and works on reading and many other skills during her daily time with Schneider.
“Mrs. Schneider is a great teacher because she helps me to learn, she makes reading fun, and she teaches me new things every day,” said Bella, who has known Schneider for seven years.
When Bella comes across a word she doesn’t know, they write it on a card and play a memory game. Then Bella creates sentences using the words.
Recently, they’ve been working on numbers and money.
In her nomination, Theresa DeBrevi, Bella’s mother, described those laughter-filled sessions as a highlight of Bella’s days.
“We applaud Mrs. Schneider for being a true advocate for Bella and always respecting her abilities and challenges,” said DeBrevi. “One of the reasons their partnership is so successful [is] because of the mutual respect they have for one another.”
Schneider didn’t suspect a thing when she was called to the front office on March 21 — World Down Syndrome Day — to receive the award.
She was stunned to be greeted by a group — including Bella and Theresa DeBrevi and her own daughter, fifth-grader Madeline — and presented with a certificate and flowers.
“It’s amazing to me that these individuals are so dedicated to their crafts,” said Amy Allison, executive director of the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City.
This year, the guild honored 24 “community champions” for their commitment to “interact [with], include and enjoy” individuals with Down syndrome.
“Clearly, these individuals really believe in our children and challenge them to reach their full potential,” said Allison.
Holy Cross principal Allison Carney agreed.
“Jeanine is very committed to the students — all of her students — and goes above and beyond to make sure that she addresses their individual needs,” she said.
Schneider does her research and makes sure the data backs up her work, the principal continued.
She kicks up the creativity, too. Schneider is working with one student to develop food-shopping and meal-preparation skills to meet that student’s needs, for instance.
She frequently schedules time after school and during the summer to help her reading students stay on top of their studies.
As for Bella, Schneider includes her in everything — right down to greeting people in the hallways, a social skill every child needs, said Carney.
One of Bella’s jobs at school this year has built on her reading skills, calling on her to deliver envelopes from the office to the different grades.
Bella has grown very independent in that job, as well as others. She also works with preschoolers and takes her turn at safety patrol.
Schneider strives to create as much independence in her students as she can.
And she encourages each to be the student she wasn’t.
“I wasn’t very motivated,” she said of her early years in school. She completed what she needed to, but didn’t really reach for bigger goals until college.
Hindsight is 20/20, said Schneider, and she hopes that her students will make every moment count now and see the value of loving to learn.
“I tell them, yeah, you might have a struggle, but it’s not something that can’t be overcome. You absolutely can positively learn from this and go on forward and be successful in whatever it is,” she said.
“Whatever you’re doing, you’re a successful individual and you have to have pride in that,” she tells them.
To the DeBrevis, Schneider is part of the family.
“She inspires kids to really be lifelong learners. And for us, that’s an important thing,” said DeBrevi. “It’s not about, ‘Do you have everything mastered today?’ — but, instead, enjoying learning, finding answers, seeking information, and growing and gaining skills.”