New fund equips Catholic schools to serve students with disabilities

Kate Witt, a sophomore at Xavier College Preparatory, demonstrates use of audio notes to aid with a learning disability. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Kate Witt, a sophomore at Xavier College Preparatory, demonstrates use of audio notes to aid with a learning disability. A new fund, managed through the Catholic Community Foundation, will allow schools to secure monies to better serve students with a range of disabilities including audio books and speech-to-text editable software. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Blessed Margaret of Castello was proof that it takes a village to raise a child. Townsfolk adopted the forgotten-child-turned-abandoned teenager born with multiple disabilities and nurtured her great love for God.
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Arizona Catholic Schools Fund for Disabled Students

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  • Make a donation[/quote_box_right]She went on to be a productive member of the community and is now patron saint of the newly established Arizona Catholic Schools Fund for Disabled Students. The fund covers costs related to academic accommodations at Catholic schools.

Monies would allow schools to better serve students with a range of learning disabilities, physical or mobility challenges, blindness and low vision or who are hearing impaired by acquiring the right technology, equipment and resources to serve them.

That’s the kind of support Lisa Colangelo Fischer said could have given her grades a boost when she attended Xavier College Preparatory. Colangelo Fischer was born deaf and was the first Arizona public school student with a disability to receive funding for adaptive support.

Catholic schools and dioceses across the country have since found ways to serve students with varying disabilities — such as programming and full departments — and Colangelo Fischer said it’s time Arizona caught up. She longs for the day funding allows a disability resource center in the Diocese of Phoenix.

“Students need the support of the community to help them grow, to help them reach their potential. If the community believes in the students, then they will believe in themselves,” Colangelo Fischer said.

She said her experience at Xavier helped her self-confidence grow. She served on student council for three years, played golf and ran track. Colangelo Fischer went on to earn a master’s in counseling and a doctorate in counseling psychology.

She’s now a mother of two and got the long awaited fund off the ground over the summer.

Heidi Hawkins is no expert, but she does know the difference disability support makes. Her oldest daughter has Down syndrome and is in seventh grade at Annunciation Catholic School in Cave Creek. A youth and education grant from the Catholic Community Foundation allows a resource teacher to help with testing and provide other assistance for Hawkins’ daughter and the other 9.5 percent of Annunciation students requiring accommodations.

“It’s such a huge need that’s sometimes overlooked or missed,” Hawkins said, noting that simple accommodations become empowering. “You can also let them experience success at their level and not failure… which is huge. Little victories are celebrated in big ways for families with disabilities.”