Tuesday, August 23, 2011

special girl takes on traditional school

from the Coloradoan:

When Gretchen Coon walks to the bus stop every morning, the 6-year-old is already famous, waving at everybody in sight and yelling their names.

She stepped off the bus at Linton Elementary School on Monday morning and began greeting her public, shaking hands and hugging the many parents, teachers and students who approached her as if she were a celebrity as she walked to her kindergarten classroom with confidence and pride.

In many ways, she is a celebrity. Gretchen has been a familiar face to the Linton family since her sister, Brigid, 7, stepped through the school’s doors. The girls’ mother, Linda Trentman, volunteered for the school and often brought Gretchen along.

While many people know her for her big heart and huge hugs, Gretchen Coon has another
characteristic most recognize: Down syndrome.

But unlike some special needs students, Gretchen started school in a traditional classroom Monday, a decision her parents, Trentman and Jeffrey Coon, said was crucial to her development.

“The statistics on Down syndrome are changing because more and more kids are being given the opportunity to be educated in a traditional classroom with their peers, as opposed to going to special schools or away to institutions,” Jeffrey Coon said.

Beyond the benefits to Gretchen’s own learning process, Trentman said her daughter’s ability to love without prejudice will teach other students to live openly with kindness and respect.

“Let (special needs kids) be who they are,” Trentman said. “They make other people better people. She still brings tears to my eyes because she’s such a great kid.”

“She’s been a magnet for everything positive,” Jeffrey Coon added. “I have flaws; she has none. Everything that comes out of her is 100 percent pure.”

Gretchen has always opened her heart to meeting and loving everybody she meets. Whether it’s her big sister’s classmates or a person on the street, Gretchen proudly extends her hand to make a new friend, Brigid said.

“She’s the brave one.”

For her parents, Gretchen’s first day of school was a milestone they have prepared for since she was born. As for Gretchen, going to school for the first time meant only one thing: making new friends at recess.

“I’m going there to have recess,” Gretchen said. “I go outside and play around. The end.”

She waited patiently as she sat in her classroom for the first time, learning how to sign up for lunch, hang up her backpack and sing the morning song. But finally, it was time.

Gretchen ran out to the playground, beaming in anticipation, and headed straight to the jungle gym. She marched up the stairs without the slightest hint of trepidation as a group of about 10 students gathered at the bottom to cheer her on.

She looked down and hesitated.

“C’mon, Gretchy,” her sister and friends cheered.

With a small smile, she slid down into the arms of a family that loved and appreciated her for being just who she is.

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