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'More alike than different': Lincoln Elementary students learn about Down Syndrome and the importance of inclusivity

Rachel Melvin, left, and her 8-year-old son Ben, helped students at Lincoln Elementary celebrate World Down Syndrome Day on Monday. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)1 / 4
Students at Lincoln Elementary in Dickinson celebrated World Down Syndrome Day on Monday by wearing mismatched socks. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)2 / 4
Students at Lincoln Elementary in Dickinson celebrated World Down Syndrome Day on Monday by wearing mismatched socks. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)3 / 4
Students at Lincoln Elementary in Dickinson celebrated World Down Syndrome Day on Monday by wearing mismatched socks. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)4 / 4

Students at Lincoln Elementary School in Dickinson celebrated Mismatched Socks Day to recognize students' similarities and bolster inclusivity on Monday.

The event was designed to coincide with the celebration of World Down Syndrome Day, which is Tuesday.

World Down Syndrome Day, observed on March 21 every year, helps raise awareness of what Down syndrome is, what it means to have Down syndrome and how people with Down syndrome play a vital role in local communities. The date, 3-21, was selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome, which causes the condition, according to the World Down Syndrome Day website.

As a part of the celebration, Dickinson resident Rachel Melvin, whose son Ben, a second grader at Lincoln Elementary with Down syndrome, gave a presentation to students to help them learn a little more about the chromosomal condition. She said it was important for her to be able to help educate children.

"I wanted to show that we are all more alike than different," she said. "... I feel like knowledge is power."

The 15-minute presentation included information about Down syndrome, such as what causes it, as well teaching kids that those with disabilities are not different from themselves. She also had students be a part of the presentation. First, she had students put on large wool gloves and had them pick up small objects off the table to illustrate how children with Down syndrome may have a hard time using their hands. She also had some students place large marshmallows in their mouths and then try to speak to show that it can sometimes be difficult for children with Down syndrome to speak clearly.

"I think they enjoy it because they have questions," she said. "Ben's disability is obvious, but not everyone's disability is obvious, so I think if they know a little bit about Ben and a little about disabilities it's going to open the doors for all of our kids."

Tammy Praus, principal at Lincoln Elementary, said she supported the event because it teaches the students how important diversity is in everybody. Praus said although they

always try to teach about diversity and how it impacts people's daily lives, they have not specifically celebrated World Down Syndrome Day. She said she would like to start having more specific days like this in the future.

"I think it's more about educating our youth," Praus said. "From kindergarten to fifth grade the way they're educated, and the way they're understanding may look a little bit different each year as they grow and learn to accept differences."

Praus said it is important to accept differences, whether someone has a different nationally, speaks a different language or is in a wheelchair because those differences make a person unique.

She added that starting those types of conversations at a young age is important for the rest of their lives. The school's theme is the "Energy bus," which encourages students to see the world beyond themselves, she said.

"We speak to our students about how we are all on the same bus together," she said. "... We are all on the same journey together at Lincoln Elementary, and it takes all types of characters, all sizes, all personalities, and they're all welcome on our bus."

Being inclusive is also very important to Melvin. She does not want students to feel left out just because they have a disability.

"I think that kids tend to stick in their little groups, and a kid is different, and they don't know why," she said. "I think just educating the community, educating our kids that we are more alike than different. It's OK to ask questions, it's OK, but we need to include everybody. ... I think just including all of our kids, no matter their ability, they're disability—it's awesome."

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook started working as the multimedia editor for The Press in January 2016.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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