We have sent our children to Catholic schools since our oldest started kindergarten 10 years ago. Giving our children a faith-based education was a priority not only for the religious foundation it provided, but also for the consistency attending Catholic schools offers a military family. As a military family, we have become accustomed to transitions. After all, home is where the army sends us. A good deal of the feeling of home is being a part of a Catholic school community wherever we moved. We relied on the availability of a faith-based education for our kids as we traveled to 4 different states in the last 10 years. Our move to Maryland in 2013 was no different.
In the summer of 2013, Kyle was relocated to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. During our research about where to live, we found St. Louis Catholic School in Clarksville, MD. Clarksville happened to be in the distance radius we had considered for Kyle’s daily commute. All the school had to offer as well as the proximity to our newly purchased home impressed us. It was a great relief that the school also had a preschool to meet the needs of our 4 school age children. Tobin was only 17 months old and we were pretty new to the concept of early intervention and future transition into school. We primarily focused on the kids that needed to be enrolled for the current school year. So Keegan, Bergen, Carsten and Zoe were registered at St. Louis, and Tobin was signed up for Howard County Infants and Toddlers program.
We had not yet considered any options for Tobin. It didn’t become a blip on our radar until one of Tobin’s adoring siblings was wondering aloud one day about how fun it would be to have Tobin ride the bus with them. It seemed like a radical idea to send him to Catholic school. It was a thought that I had not yet considered. As the idea grew, I began wondering why not?
So, with some trepidation, armed with the latest research and information, I approached our principal at St. Louis School and asked her if she would consider admitting Tobin when he was ready for kindergarten. I prayed that a 2-3 year preparation time would add to the reasonableness of my request. It was perfect timing actually. Unbeknownst to me, there was another mom requesting that her 7-year-old (with Down syndrome) be allowed to attend. Like us, the rest of her children had attended and had since graduated from SLS. She wanted her youngest to have the same experience. Another dear friend then began considering moving her young daughter to St. Louis to join her siblings.
We joined forces, invited the Catholic Coalition for Special Education to assist us, and tried to be patient while the principal led her staff on a year of research and information gathering. Much to our great surprise, last spring, St. Louis announced a brand new program named Louis IX, named after our patron, King St. Louis the IX of France. The new initiative was to welcome students with Down syndrome whose siblings had graduated or were currently attending the school.
Tobin will attend St. Louis in a year or two depending on his readiness for kindergarten. Meanwhile, Tobin continues to grow and learn at Dayton Oaks Elementary RECC program where he is valued and cherished by all of his teachers.
I believe that living our values is important. As Catholics, it isn’t enough to say we are pro-life and then deny the inherent dignity of each child regardless of ability. We have to be able to walk the walk and put our faith into action.
Also, I believe inclusive education is important. This is the epitome of inclusion. Not only is Tobin going to be included into a typical classroom, but also he will be included with his siblings into the same school community. In the same way his brothers and sister are welcomed, taught and recognized so, too, will Tobin be as a student at St. Louis. I want him to know the same sense of friendship and being home that our family feels at our school and church.
The side effects of St. Louis opening its mind and doors to these siblings with Down syndrome will impact all of our community. People will be exposed to these amazing individuals with Down syndrome. Exposure to differences helps people become more accepting of diversity. Perhaps his life will inspire others to pursue careers in special education, speech therapy, or medicine. Maybe Down syndrome won’t seem like such a unique condition. Most importantly, I hope knowing Tobin may be pivotal for his schoolmates to understand that having a child with Down syndrome is something to be celebrated.
About the Author: Kyle and Troy Remick make their home in Clarksville MD with their five children, Keegan (14), Bergen (11), Carsten (9), Zoë (7), and Tobin (4) and Troy's mom, Kelly Altman. Kyle is currently stationed at Ft. Detrick, MD as an active duty army Trauma Surgeon.