by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — Some say teaching is a thankless job.
But for Katy Hazen, a first-grade teacher at Holy Spirit School in Overland Park, there is no greater thanks than being named a Community Champion by the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City (DSG).
In March, Hazen was one of 21 Kansas City-area individuals awarded the honor by DSG.
Susanne Conrad, the mother of one of Hazen’s students, 6-year-old Clare, nominated Hazen. Clare has Down syndrome and benefits from Hazen’s patience and willingness to think outside the box for all of Clare’s needs, she said.
“She has done a remarkable job advancing Clare’s skills in very creative ways,” Conrad wrote in her nomination. “I greatly appreciate her positivity and patience as we work to fix and improve behaviors.”
“I’m so thankful that she doesn’t limit Clare,” the nomination continued, “and that she allows her to try things, but with the understanding that a backup plan may be needed.”
Each year, DSG recognizes 21 Community Champions doing amazing work to support its members as part of the organization’s celebration of World Down Syndrome Day on March 21.
Members are encouraged to nominate a teacher, therapist, doctor, family friend, baby sitter, legislator, coach or any other important person who is making a difference in the lives of people with Down syndrome. DSG released a video honoring its champions to mark the occasion.
Hazen, who has taught first grade at Holy Spirit for the last seven years, has had other students with special needs in her class.
This is the first time, however, Hazen has taught a student with Down syndrome. She credits Clare’s success to a team approach, which relies on the collaboration of Clare’s family, Holy Spirit principal Michele Watson, DSG and the resource centers at Holy Spirit and Church of the Nativity in Leawood.
“I had Clare’s older sisters in class and I know her family so well that I wanted to be Clare’s teacher,” Hazen said. “The DSG is just a phone call away, and I’ve learned so much from Clare herself.
“Clare has taught me that sometimes I just need to back off and not hover too much.”
Hazen is actually the second Holy Spirit teacher to win the award. In 2017, Clare’s kindergarten teacher Nicole Richter was awarded the same honor. She echoed Hazen’s sentiments.
“When Clare came to kindergarten,” Richter said, “it wasn’t just her who needed us; it was us who needed her.”
“After being a teacher for 10 years,” she added, “which isn’t a whole lot, you think you know your craft well and become a bit comfortable.
“Having Clare in my class was a reminder to me that I will never know all that I should as a teacher and I must keep learning every day, just like I teach my kids to do.”
“She was giving us the gift of understanding and acceptance, which is what we try to instill in our kids,” continued Richter. “She was a living example of acceptance and understanding, and we are eternally grateful for it.”
DSG volunteer coordinator Elaine Perilla read Susanne’s nomination letter aloud to the entire school during a special assembly for the award, and then presented Hazen with a gift certificate. Hazen also thanked her support staff of paraprofessionals in helping Clare reach her goals.
“Mrs. Hazen has proven herself this year as a beautiful Christian teacher that displays virtues that are very admirable,” Susanne wrote. “Thank you for loving my child the same way you love all the rest of them.”
“You challenge them all to be better students and people,” she wrote. “Thank you for being a role model for me as well as the students.”