Schools throughout West Hartford, as well as many businesses and other organizations, celebrated World Down Syndrome Day on Thursday by wearing crazy socks.
By Ted Glanzer
Four years ago, West Hartford resident Brooke Daly began looking into whether the public schools in town were doing anything to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, which is held every March 21.
Daly, whose son Finn, now 6, has Down syndrome, discovered nothing officials was being done.
Seeing an opportunity, Daly organized the first celebration of World Down Syndrome Day with a Rock Your Socks event – where people in school wear crazy, often mix-matched socks (more on that later) – that two elementary schools joined in on.
That initial effort snowballed into a townwide celebration in which every school – the 11 elementary schools, two middle schools, two public high schools, Northwest Catholic High School, and the American School for the Deaf – all took part in this past Thursday.
The socks, according to Daly, are symbolic of the genetic testing that is done with a child with Down syndrome that shows the child’s chromosomes.
“They look like little socks,” Daly said. “Plus it’s a fun hook for the kids, though it’s not just kids. Plenty of businesses in West Hartford and Connecticut participated as well, including the West Hartford Police Department.
“It’s wonderful. People get really excited about it and they all send me or post pictures of their silly and mix-matched socks on Facebook and Instagram.”
For Down Syndrome Day on Thursday, Daly visited Wolcott Elementary, where Finn goes to school, as well as Duffy Elementary, where her daughter, Rosie, is a fourth grader. Brooke Daly wore one green sock that had shamrocks (for Finn, whose first Teddy bear in NICU, given to him by a nurse, had shamrocks on it), and the other was pink with a flower for Rosie.
During her visits to the schools, Brooke Daly read age-appropriate Down syndrome stories, such as “We’ll Paint the Octopus Red,” to various classrooms.
At Duffy, Rosie – donning a cat sock for her aunts and grandmother who love cats, and a bird sock for her other grandmother who owned a bird – read the announcements to the school, provided some facts about Down Syndrome Day and also read stories to classes. She also put together a “Rock Your Socks” bulletin board at Duffy.
Brooke Daly said the day provides people with an opportunity to break down barriers and educate themselves about Down syndrome.
“More so with adults than children, people are uncomfortable with talking about disability, which I completely understand,” she said. “Before I had Finn, I wasn’t really comfortable with it, either, because pretty much someone who is older than 30 wasn’t brought up with kids like Finn or kids with special needs in their classrooms. But now Rosie and her peers, they are exposed to these kids so it really isn’t that different. A lot of times the kids go home and educate the parents, which is wonderful.”
Brooke Daly said, ideally, West Hartford would be used as a model for other towns to follow concerning World Down Syndrome Day. She credited Gretchen Nelson, director of pupil services, with spearheading the effort and getting the message out to school principals.
Brooke Daly is also on the board for the Down Syndrome Association of Connecticut, which, through a nomination process, donated books about Down syndrome to 19 schools and 10 public libraries throughout the state.
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