Schools ‘rock their socks’ for World Down Syndrome Day

SEAFORD – It most likely will go down in World Down Syndrome Day history in Seaford as a sock hop like none other.

Brightly colored mismatched socks were the order of the day worldwide March 21 — the observed calendar date for World Down Syndrome Day — and schools across Delaware answered the call.

The different-but-alike, all-inclusive Rock Your Socks celebration at West Seaford Elementary School was nothing short of monumental.

The West Seaford gym rocked during the afternoon as 400-plus students in kindergarten through second grade and staff showcased their mismatched socks in a Rock Your Socks sock hop show of unity, respect, friendship and kindness to music and dance.

“We are all still people. Although some friends might be a little different than us, they are still our friends,” said Dana Bowe, K-2 special education teacher for Sussex County Orthopedic Program and the state of Delaware’s reigning Teacher of the Year.

“Every heart matters. Every person matters and should be valued. The outside that makes us different, or sometimes the inside that makes us different, that is what makes us unique. We are celebrating diversity here,” she added.

West Seaford Elementary students and staff show off their mismatched socks during the Rock Your Socks sock hop celebration on March 21 – World Down Syndrome Day. In photo, from left, Debby Shockley, Levi Massey, Mason Lafayette, Tristan Pusey, Stacy O’Neal, Avary Cannon, Jeremiah Nock, Dana Bowe and Elizabeth Hill.

Vanessa Cannon, whose 8-year-old daughter Avary was born with Down Syndrome, is Sussex County’s board of directors’ connection to the Down Syndrome Association of Delaware. Ms. Cannon said every pair of the 17,000 pairs of socks mismatched during a February mismatch party facilitated by her older daughter Adrianna, a Sussex Tech High School junior, were claimed in preparation for downstate Rock Your Socks celebrations.

“It totally exceeds all of my expectations, to see a community and the schools and local businesses coming together to celebrate, not just only Down Syndrome but all,” said Ms. Cannon. “It totally brings all your hard into perspective. Everything that we did leading up to this day we hope carries on, until tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, to show kind kindness, to show respect, acceptance, inclusion and love.”

The link to Down Syndrome – a chromosome disorder associated with mild to moderate intellectual disability, physical growth delay and a characteristic facial appearance – is a third copy of the 21st chromosome.

Thus 3-21, and the reason World Down Syndrome Day is celebrated March 21.

“Our friends with Down Syndrome have three copies of the 21st chromosome. And when you look at the chromosomes enlarged, they actually look like socks. So, the brightly colored socks!” said Ms. Bowe.

“We have shown that picture to our students. We have discussed and talked about how our friends have an extra chromosome. So, that kind of makes them extra special.”

“We’ve talked about it because awareness brings more acceptance. The students have been very excited,” Ms. Bowe said.

“We have talked about it, that it’s more than just socks. We are giving education. We are talking about kindness, acceptance and inclusion.”

Students from West Seaford’s “Choose to Include Club” created a music video about friendship and inclusion. The video and student-friendly PowerPoint was sent to all teachers in the district to help lead their classes in discussion: We are more alike than different.

That’s the mantra at West Seaford and the Seaford School District.

Dana Bowe, K-2 special education teacher for the Sussex County Orthopedic Program, leads West Seaford Elementary School students in showing off their mismatched socks during the Rock Your Socks sock hop celebration on World Down Syndrome Day.

“The entire school district; we are talking PreK all the way through 12th grade. Every school in the Seaford School District is embracing World Down Syndrome Day,” said Ms. Bowe.

“We have books that we have suggested so students and teachers can read and start the discussion on how we are more alike than different.”

Celebrations in Seaford schools accounted for more than 4,000 pair of socks. Ms. Bowe used some of the grant money she received as state Teacher of the Year to ensure every student and staff member could participate.

“There were socks for every person, so that way we can continue talking about how we are more alike than different.

“We really want to promote acceptance and inclusion and awareness and make the world kinder and more respectful to others who might be a little different,” Ms. Bowe said.

“Every student and staff in Seaford School District has a pair of socks,” said Ms. Cannon.

Additionally, Ms. Bowe is spearheading efforts for West Seaford Elementary to attain status as a Unified banner school.

She is involved in Unified Soccer, in which student/athletes with disabilities practice and compete in tandem with “unified” peer partners.

Ms. Cannon notes that Ms. Bowe’s efforts in Seaford extended out west to Utah.

“The Utah Teacher of the Year also has a child with Down Syndrome,” she said. “Dana shared the socks with her. So, who knows what is going to happen in Utah now?”

Other groups show support

At another Seaford venue, Nanticoke Health Services had a huge outpouring of participation for Rock Your Socks on World Down Syndrome Day, as did the participation by the Millsboro Police Department.

Statewide, more than 70,000 pairs of mismatched socks were available — at $1 a pair — for events and celebrations. All proceeds go to the Down Syndrome Association of Delaware.

Images of children and adults, from school administrators to elected leaders, rocking their brightly colored and mismatched socks filled social media feeds this week as schools and private organizations joined the awareness campaign.

Gov. John Carney signed a proclamation declaring Thursday World Down Syndrom Day in Delaware with a festive signing in his office at Legislative Hall.

Ms. Cannon said it’s all about acceptance, inclusion and respect for all — all things that can be taught in the home.

“They don’t cost anything. And when you are teaching your children at home, they are going to carry it out into the community,” said Ms. Cannon. “And today, Facebook is probably the happiest you’ve ever seen it. It’s just one step closer to the ultimate goal of acceptance and inclusion of all.”

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