Their school uniforms might be the same, but underneath is a person God gifted with a unique set of abilities and challenges to overcome.
Yet none of it precludes them from being able to attend a Catholic school. That was the core lesson for students in every grade level at St. Gregory during a Celebrating Differences event Jan. 8. It served as a kickoff activity designating the campus as the Diocese of Phoenix’s pilot school for the newly re-branded Arizona Catholic Schools Disabilities Fund.
The organization, which launched in the fall of 2014, exists to help local Catholic schools successfully meet the needs of students with any kind of physical or cognitive disability.
“Many of our diocesan teachers are so willing to learn more about teaching students with disabilities,” said Kathy Johnson, a reading resource teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale and part of the board of directors for the Arizona Catholic Schools Disabilities Fund.
She said teacher dedication already has many faculty successfully working with special needs students, but knows “there is so much more that we need to do and we are hoping that the ACSDF can be the support system that our special students and teachers want and need.”
Understanding plays a huge role in that support system. That’s why St. Gregory students visited six simulation stations during the Celebrating Differences event. Each activity allowed them to better understand and even experience, to some degree, what it might be like to have challenges with hearing, vision, learning, fine motor skills or gross motor skills. Students also learned what it might be like to have autism.
More importantly, they learned how sometimes simple adaptations or additional time could help them accomplish the same task as those without a disability. Parents, the St. Gregory community and anyone else interested is invited to experience the same simulation activities Feb. 2 at the school.
Arizona Catholic Schools Disabilities Fund
P.O. Box 26638, Phoenix 85068
Celebrating Differences event for the community
Feb. 2 at St. Gregory School, 3440 N. 18th Ave.
Info: (602) 266-9527
“What I really want you to remember about today is that a person is a person first,” Kathy Smith, a member of the Arizona Council for Exceptional Children and part of ACSDF’s “cadre” of related professionals, told the students.
She reminded them to use expressions such as “a person with a hearing impairment” instead of “a deaf person.”
“The disability is just something about them like having curly hair or being tall or short,” Smith said.
Roughly 10-15 percent of St. Gregory students have been identified as having special needs. Maureen DeGrose, principal, said those needs include learning disabilities, medical issues, ADHD, autism and hearing impairments.
“The ultimate goal is student achievement,” DeGrose said. She is looking forward to professional development opportunities for teachers through ACSDF. “We have students with many needs and this is a wonderful opportunity to give all of our students the Catholic education they deserve.”
Lisa Fischer is the mastermind behind the Arizona Catholic Schools Disabilities Fund. She was born without the ability to hear, but still managed to graduate from Xavier College Preparatory. Fischer led the hearing impairment simulation station during the Celebrate Differences event and taught students how to count in sign language plus use its alphabet.
“Of all the disabilities the students have, 47 percent have dyslexia,” Fischer said. “Just about every school has someone.”
Whether it was dyslexia or another learning or cognitive disability, students donned an array of local Catholic school uniforms and joined Fischer at the State Capitol back in October. They watched as Governor Doug Ducey declared it Disabilities Awareness Month.