Thursday, November 8, 2018

WHAT EVER HAPPENED...? "Danielle and Catherine," Down Syndrome

And speaking about our society becoming nicer to one another, here’s a chapter about two people who do just that….

Danielle was a little girl when I first taught her at Ulster County BOCES in my special ed. Life Skills classroom. She has Down syndrome and she has been an absolute joy in my life to this day!

When she was in my class, she paid attention and followed the rules – most of the time. Sometimes, I had to send her to “time out” to pull herself together.

Classroom work was hard for all of my students. One day when Danielle was particularly stressed out, she asked if she could take a break from her math worksheet. I said she could, and I turned on the radio for music to calm her. The radio station was playing “Build Me Up Buttercup,” sung by The Foundations. Danielle just got up and danced. When others saw her, some of them danced, too. They all stopped working for the three minutes the song played.

After the song ended, I turned off the radio, and Danielle, and all the other students, went straight back to work without me telling them to. I decided right there and then that this song would be ours forever to help us calm down about our struggles.

I went to the store and bought that song and had it available each day for the rest of my teaching career. Each new year, I explained to the students about a former student, Danielle, who got that idea started. Many classes years after that had a three-minute “buttercup break” so they could chill out and then get back to work.

Danielle invited me to her 30th birthday party that she held in a nice restaurant with lots of guests, some of them students in classes from way-back-when with her. I asked the DJ to play that song and a couple of others that my students used in my classroom all those years ago. We all danced at her party, and I cried happy tears on the dance floor, remembering when they all were small. Now they’re all adults, and I LOVE being around them.

A bunch of former students went out to lunch with my then-boyfriend Aiden and me once or twice a year. When I first got out of the hospital after my brain surgery, we met a lot more often. But nowadays I have less time because of all the other things I’m involved in to get better: support groups, holistic/alternative therapies, church functions, etc.

One of the “lunch buddies” is Catherine, another student whom I taught a long time ago. Catherine also has Down syndrome and has remained friends with Danielle all through their adulthood.

Catherine leaves hysterically funny messages for me nowadays on my answering machine. It’s almost like she has radar for detecting my bad days from far away and calls. When I get home feeling terrible about one more embarrassing meltdown somewhere, Catherine is on my machine, and her words make me laugh and momentarily forget the nonsense that took place that day.

Throughout my career, I taught many students with various disabilities. The population that I feel I was the most effective with was the Life Skills students. The fact that I am still in contact with some of them over 20 years later supports that point. [I still love the time I spend with Danielle, Catherine, and Erick and their families. I love their stories from our classroom long ago.]

The time I spend with these “kids” of mine is truly a blessing. They are the sweetest people I know!

From IN FOCUS, FALL 1997, Ulster BOCES Special/Alternative Education Programs Newsletter:

Two Young Olympians Take Home the Gold in Friendship
New Paltz - After competing against approximately 50 adult competitors, two young female contestants were presented with bronze medals in the annual Special Olympic softball competition held this fall at Cantine Field in Saugerties.

Catherine, 10, from Lenape Elementary School and Danielle, 13, a student in the Ulster BOCES Special Education program at Lenape, both accompanied the torch and helped carry the Ulster BOCES banner during the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics. The students then went on to place in the contest, which evaluated batting, fielding, base running and throwing skills.

Janet Schliff, an Ulster BOCES special education teacher at Lenape Elementary, coordinated the event. Rich Smith, coach for the summer school program and a summer school teacher at Ulster BOCES, was responsible for training both girls for the competition. Candice Goldstein, speech therapist for the New Paltz school district, was also on hand to lend support to the competitors.

United by their victory at the games, these two students are also friends who met in Ruth Backenroth’s special education classroom a few years ago. Although Catherine is now a student in a New Paltz inclusion class, the girls’ friendship remains strong. The opportunity for friendships between Ulster BOCES students and New Paltz students is encouraged by the design of the integration of the Special Education program at the Lenape school. Interacting with one another on a daily basis, Ulster BOCES and New Paltz students have lunch together, share the playground and library, and are mainstreamed for music, art, and gym classes.
Among the many benefits of mainstreaming and integration are that Ulster BOCES students get out of the small settings of 1:12:1 or 1:6:1 [teacher:students:staff] and become part of a larger group where they can learn socialization skills. Also, the Lenape Elementary school students learn diversity and acceptance. Ulster BOCES special education teacher, Janet Schliff, summed it up by saying, “It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, it is who you are on the inside that counts.”

The girls’ parents also help nurture their friendship by making arrangements for the girls to play together regularly. Catherine and Danielle call their time together the “Friendship Club.” Weekly, their play time together is planned to include coloring, exercise, and even making applesauce. Asked to describe their favorite joint activity, the girls simultaneously sang out, “Eating pizza.” The girls also shared their thoughts about each other. Giggling, Catherine explained her appreciation for Danielle’s sense of humor, “She’s so funny, she always makes me laugh.” Danielle credits Catherine’s helpful nature as her best quality, “She even helps me clean my room!”

[This article was written long ago, but I saved it because Special Olympics is very dear to my heart. Here and elsewhere, I have used the children’s names only when I have had parental permission.]

    So, to end this wonderful chapter, I need to tell you what Danielle said to me when I told her that Aiden and I broke up: “That’s men for you.”

     She couldn’t have said it better!

I (Douglas Winslow Cooper) have been excerpting, weekly, material from this almost-final version of the fine book by Janet Johnson Schliff, M.S. Ed., which she wrote over a three-year period with some coaching and editing help from me, through my business, Write Your Book with Me.

Her memoir is now available in paperback and ebook formats from Outskirts Press  and

What Ever Happened to My White Picket Fence? My Brain Injury from My Massive Brain Tumor



Janet Johnson Schliff spoke at the Oblong Books Bookstore in Rhinebeck, NY, on Tuesday, February 6 at 6 p.m.

Janet was on WKNY Radio 1490 in Kingston, NY, on Thursday, March 1 at 9:10 a.m. 

Janet spoke at Barnes & Noble in Kingston, NY, on Saturday, March 3 at 1 p.m. 

Janet spoke at the Starr Library in Rhinebeck, NY, on March 6 
at 7 p.m. 

Janet spoke at the Golden Notebook Bookstore in Woodstock, NY, on March 17 at 2 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Morton Library in Rhinecliff, NY, on March 28 at 6:30 p.m. 

Janet spoke at RCAL in Kingston, NY, on April 3 at 4 p.m. [They gave her an impromptu book-launch party.]

Janet spoke at the Parkinson's Support Group at the Starr Library in Rhinebeck, NY, on April 4 at 2:30 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Stone Ridge Library in Stone Ridge, NY, on April 27 at 5:30 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Hurley Library in Hurley, NY, on May 4 at 6 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Kingston Library in Kingston, NY, on May 9 at 6 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Staatsburg Library in Staatsburg, NY, on May 14 at 7 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Clinton Community Library in Rhinebeck, NY, on May 31 at 6:30 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Mountain Top Library in Tannersville, NY, on June 9 at noon.

Janet spoke at the Gardiner Library in Gardiner, NY, on June 11 at 7 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Marbletown Community Center in Stone Ridge, NY, on June 20 at 6 p.m.

Janet was interviewed on radio station WTBQ-FM (93.5) on June 29 at 12 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Esopus Library in Port Ewen, NY, on July 13 at 7 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Pine Plains Library in Pine Plains, NY, on July 20 at 6 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Ulster Library in Kingston, NY, on July 23 at 5:30 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Northern Dutchess Bible Church in Red Hook, NY, on August 11 at 1 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Inquiring Minds Bookstore in New Paltz, NY, on September 6 at 7 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Adriance Library in Poughkeepsie, NY, on September 15 at 2:30 p.m.

Janet was interviewed on radio station WRIP-FM (97.9) on September 21 at 8 a.m.

Janet again spoke at the Mountain Top Library in Tannersville, NY, on September 22 at noon.

Janet spoke at the Enchanted Cafe in Red Hook, NY, on September 28 at 7 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Hyde Park Library in Hyde Park, NY, on October 4 at 7 p.m.

Janet participated in an Author Weekend at the Barnes & Noble in Poughkeepsie, NY, on October 14 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Tivoli Library in Tivoli, NY, on October 22 at 5:30 p.m.

Janet’s interview for the TV program Wake Up with Marci on the You Too America Channel was scheduled to air on Monday, November 5, and Friday, November 9.

Janet spoke at the Germantown Library in Germantown, NY, on November 7 at 6:00 p.m.

More signings will be coming up. A fine feature about Janet by John DeSantos [845 LIFE] appeared in the Middletown Times Herald-Record on Monday, March 12, as part of Brain Injury Awareness Month. An article about her book was just published in the May 2018 Living Rhinebeck Magazine. An article about her book appeared in the May 14 Daily Freeman of Kingston, NY. and another in the Family Life section of the Poughkeepsie Journal on June 8th. The Millerton News published an article on Thursday, August 2, about her talk at the Pine Plains Library. 

No comments:

Post a Comment