Amy Brocato Pearson
Jacksonville Daily Progress
In front of a colorful quilt, two poised young ladies perched in front of microphones, ready for their cues.
The student director gave them the "cameras rolling" hand signal and the girls launched into reading their cues.
Someone different was at the anchor desk today. Bullard Elementary fourth-grader Macey Bunger took her place beside her co-anchor and read her lines off of a poster board she'd hand-crafted. The daily morning video announcements are a student and staff favorite; Thursday morning Macey anchored the announcements in celebration of World Down Syndrome Day, March 21.
Macey is one of two students at the school with Down Syndrome, a condition in which a baby is born with an extra chromosome. To illustrate the point, Bullard Elementary students and staff donned mis-matched or even three socks to represent the out-of-place chromosome these babies are born with. Most people are born with 46 chromosomes, evenly paired, while a person with Down Syndrome has 47. About 1 in 691 babies in the United States are born each year with Down Syndrome, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Silly socks paraded down the hallway in the spacious school as Macey, along with Cesar Campunzano, a PPCD (Preschool Program for Children with Disabil-ities) student who also has Down Syndrome, made their way to the audio-visual room for the morning announcements, accompanied by teacher Stacey Odom, who teaches PPCD and kindergarten through fourth grade Life Skills.
"This is a really neat day," she said, pushing Cesar in a special stroller that allows him more mobility. "When we heard about World Down Syndrome Day, we knew we had to participate."
Macey spoke in a voice barely above a whisper during the video segment, but when cameras cut to commercial, i.e., when the video an-nouncements were over and classes began, she piped up enthusiastically in a much more vibrant voice.
"That's Macey," Odom said, laughing. "She is amazing."
Odom said that a big challenge for children with Down Syndrome is communication.
"Macey being able to get up there and do that is incredible," she said. "Being able to speak independently in front of her peers is a major accomplishment."
Macey attends a mainstreamed classroom for part of the school day, with time spent in a more specialized setting as well. Cesar is still pre-school aged, but the goal for all PPCD students is for them to "graduate" from the class and function in a mainstream classroom, Odom said. Cesar started walking this year, a milestone his teachers are very proud of.
"Macey is amazingly accepted by her peers because she's Macey, not because she has special needs," Odom said. "She'll sit at lunch with her girlfriends and laugh and make jokes."
The fourth-grader headed off down the hall to rejoin her class, her brightly-colored socks blending in with all the other crazy socks in the hall.
"We learned never to set a bar for Macey because she's going to exceed it by far," Odom said. "She runs the show in that regular ed. classroom."