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District programs bring up Down kids

Sarah Palin’s infant son Trig brings attention to syndrome

Posted: September 19, 2008 9:00 p.m.
Updated: November 21, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Trig Palin is a hero to many, and he’s still in diapers.

Trig, son of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, recently thrust Down syndrome into the national spotlight.

Frances Molocek hopes it stays there.

“We like to think that our kids are just like any other kids, except they have a disability,” said Molocek, whose son, Micah, 14, attends Rancho Pico Junior High in Stevenson Ranch. “They have the same emotions, the same need for friendship and acceptance as most teenagers.”

The Hart district has two programs that help students with Down syndrome and other disabilities interact with other students during their school day.

The Yes I Can program provides recreational and social opportunities for students with and without disabilities. Circle of Friends pairs a student with a disability with a general education student for lunch meetings on campus.

Molacek is hoping that the Circle of Friends program, currently only offered at Valencia High School, will expand to Rancho Pico so that Micah can participate.

“When I heard about Circle of Friends, I was definitely interested in that,” she said. “Lunchtime is the most social time.”

The goal is to make students with disabilities self reliant, Marty Lieberman, Director of Special Education for the William S. Hart Union High School District.

“Our whole goal is to get them successfully integrated into our community,” Lieberman said. “For them to be as independent as possible, to perform jobs that contribute to society, and to build up their self-esteem and confidence.

“I think (Down syndrome students) are generally accepted everywhere they go — these are some very, very nice students.”

The circle program gets students with disabilities to interact with their general education peers as much as possible, Lieberman said.

“Basically, with Circle of Friends, a student will find someone to have lunch with, and hopefully after those meetings, they will get to know each other and go on to other outings outside of school,” Lieberman said.

The Hart district implemented the Yes I Can program in 1999. It gives students with disabilities and general education students the opportunity to work together planning a rock concert called the Summer Meltdown.

The students connect socially as they organize the concert event.

“For students who have difficulty making friends, they would enjoy participating in the Yes I Can program and making friends through that,” said Lieberman, whose sons Bret and Kevin organize the Yes I Can program.

Molacek just wants Micah to be treated with respect like everyone else.

“All children have their challenges at school. We just want the teachers to challenge our students and not put limitations on them,” Molacek said. “We want our kids to be all that they can be.”


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