Ouray Student Wins First Place in World Down Syndrome Day Essay Contest
by Samantha Wright
Mar 24, 2012 | 920 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<b>JOE NOLL</b> flanked by his teacher, Ouray School Special Education Director Barb Vickers, and his father, Rick Noll. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
JOE NOLL flanked by his teacher, Ouray School Special Education Director Barb Vickers, and his father, Rick Noll. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
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School Board Celebrates His Achievement, Then Gets Down to Business

OURAY – “I live in a beautiful town in Southwestern Colorado called Ouray.”

Thus begins an award-winning essay by Ouray High School student Joe Noll. “I am 17 and I am a junior at the Ouray School. Here are some things about me that I would like to share with everyone.”

Among the many things Noll (who has since turned 18) shares:

He likes to read, dance, go to the movies. He also likes girls, and poetry. His favorite movie is Titanic – “an interesting, intense love story.” His favorite book? Twilight.

Noll loves being on the OHS dance team. “Dancing is easy for me,” he writes. “I enjoy babysitting with boys and girls. I feed them and play with them. I do the same things that people without Down syndrome can do....”

This Wednesday, March 21, Noll was fêted at an award ceremony at Children’s Hospital in Denver, happening in conjunction with World Down Syndrome Day.

Noll won first place in the Individual High School – Student with Down Syndrome category in the First Annual Crnic Institute World Down Syndrome Day Essay Contest. His prize was an IPod.

“We’re hoping for an IPod touch!” Noll’s teacher, Special Education Director Barb Vickers, jokingly told the Ouray School Board at its meeting this Monday, March 19. Boardmembers each came up to an abashed Noll to shake his hand and congratulate him for his award.

The Ouray School comes out a winner as well; thanks to Noll’s prize-winning efforts, it will receive a check for $1,500. Vickers said she may use some of the grant money for some word-prediction/word processing software (Co-Writer) and the rest for appropriate transition (school to work/independent living) activities.

“I am quite proud,” Noll’s father Rick said. “In the past two years Joe has branched out in his writing, expressing more of his own experiences and perspectives. I give the teachers at the Ouray School credit for encouraging him to write well as an expression of his voice.”

The contest was sponsored by the Linda Crnic Down Syndrome Institute at the CU Medical Center in Denver as a means to increase awareness of the contributions of people with Down Syndrome. Students with Down syndrome were invited to write on the topic “How is my life just like yours?”  Students without Down syndrome wrote on the topic of ‘How my classmate, friend, relative with Down syndrome has positively enriched my life.” 

In writing his essay, Noll received only minor editing and organizational assistance, Vickers said.

“I know I am important,” his prize-winning work concludes. “I am responsible for organizing my art supplies. I am responsible for being a good uncle. I am responsible for my family and my friends. I am responsible in dance, at my job at school, and at home....

“I practice piano with my sister and my brother. He would like the song of Ode to Joy It would be nice to play the song for family. Thank you for letting me share a little bit about myself with you.”

World Down Syndrome Day takes place annually on March 21. This day was selected because 3/21 represents three copies of chromosome 21, which is unique to people with Down syndrome (most people only have two). The extra chromosome causes problems with the way the body and brain develop. Down syndrome is the most common single cause of human birth defects. Each year on this day, activities and events are held around the globe, with the goal of educating the public, and bringing awareness, understanding and acceptance for all people with Down syndrome.

Truancy Board Considered for School District

In other news from the Ouray School, Dean of Students Di Rushing addressed the school board on Monday evening about the possibility of creating a truancy board for the Ouray School District.

Rushing said there is a problem at Ouray High School with certain parents who are willing to provide excuses for their children who are excessively absent. Some of those students have racked up over 20 excused absences throughout the course of the school year, she said. And as things stand, school policy does not provide “a lot of teeth for keeping kids in school.”

Since becoming Dean of Students at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, Rushing has cracked down on the problem of truancy as much as school policy and state law permit; it is against the law to ding a student’s grades just because they’re excessively absent.

“It’s always been a problem, but we’re trying to be proactive,” Rushing said. “I have my own steps from lunch detention to in-school suspension. Then we move to signing attendance contracts. Sometimes it’s effective. Often it’s not – they’re just throwing them up in the air. What we want to do is get law enforcement and the district attorney in the mix. The truancy board hopefully will be a deterrent in itself. I think it will get their attention.... The next step is: we’ll take you to court.”

Rushing’s proposed truancy board would be comprised of representatives from Ouray County court, the Ouray County Juvenile Diversion program, and the district attorney’s office, as well as select school administrators and teachers, before whom the truant student and his or her parents would have to appear after accumulating a predetermined number of excused absences (Rushing proposed 10).

Superintendent Scott Pankow, who said he applauds Rushing’s concept, described it as “more like an intervention” than a scare tactic.

Board president Mike Fedel and others on the board allowed that they conceptually liked the idea, and gave Rushing the go-ahead to continue formulating a more detailed proposal.

If it elects to move forward with the creation of a truancy board, the Ouray School District would be blazing a trail for other school districts in the region to follow. “From what I understand, from Juvenile Diversion, there is not (a truancy board) anywhere around here,” Rushing said. “But truancy is an issue everywhere.”

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