Ar­gen­tine with Down syn­drome in­spires as a preschool teacher

‘It has been a unique ex­pe­ri­ence for the staff’

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

C”RDOBA: When Noelia Garella was a child, a nurs­ery school re­jected her as a “mon­ster.” Now 31, she is in a class of her own. In the face of prej­u­dice, she is the first per­son with Down syn­drome to work as a preschool teacher in Ar­gentina-and one of the few in the world. Garella’s case set a prece­dent af­ter the school con­fronted a taboo: could a per­son with a cog­ni­tive syn­drome be in charge of a class?

Her two-and three-year-old pupils crowd around her af­fec­tion­ately in her class­room in the Jer­monito nurs­ery. At her bid­ding, they sit down for a story and watch en­grossed as she reads, fol­low­ing her lead as she im­i­tates a shark, bar­ing her teeth. “I adore this. Ever since I was lit­tle, I have al­ways wanted to be a teacher, be­cause I like chil­dren so much,” she tells AFP. “I want them to read and lis­ten, be­cause in so­ci­ety peo­ple have to lis­ten to one an­other.”

Self-be­lief

Garella’s de­ter­mi­na­tion in­spired her col­leagues to hire her at the preschool in the north­ern city of Cordoba, de­spite reser­va­tions in some quar­ters. One party “in a po­si­tion of re­spon­si­bil­ity” judged that she should not take classes be­cause of her con­di­tion, said Ale­jan­dra Sen­es­trari, the for­mer di­rec­tor of the school who hired Garella. Teach­ers, par­ents and even the city’s mayor weighed in. They de­cided there was no rea­son Garella could not teach early-learn­ing read­ing classes. “With time, even those who had been op­posed joined in the ini­tia­tive to hire Noe as a teacher,” said Sen­es­trari. “We very quickly re­al­ized that she had a strong vo­ca­tion. She gave what the chil­dren in the nurs­ery classes most ap­pre­ci­ate, which is love.”

A ge­netic con­di­tion, Down syn­drome typ­i­cally af­fects a per­son’s phys­i­cal and in­tel­lec­tual growth. In Garella’s case, it has done noth­ing to di­min­ish her op­ti­mism and self-be­lief. Stand­ing by her side, her mother, Mercedes Cabr­era, looks tear­ful when her daugh­ter tells the story of the day care cen­ter di­rec­tor who told Garella’s par­ents: “No mon­sters here.” But Garella smiles. “That teacher is like a story that I read to the chil­dren,” she says. “She is a sad mon­ster, who knows noth­ing and gets things wrong. I am the happy mon­ster.”

Les­son in life

Other coun­tries have sto­ries of peo­ple with Down syn­drome who have be­come teach­ers. But Garella’s case is thought to be the first in Latin Amer­ica, where dis­agree­ment over whether pupils, let alone teach­ers, with Down syn­drome should be ac­cepted in pub­lic schools has gen­er­ated con­tro­versy in the past. Garella’s col­leagues have been moved by her case. “It has been a unique ex­pe­ri­ence for the staff,” says Su­sana Zer­dan, cur­rent di­rec­tor of the preschool. “The way the chil­dren ac­cept her, in­cor­po­rat­ing her nat­u­rally into the school-there is a les­son in life there for us all.”

Garella first joined the Cordoba pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem as an as­sis­tant for read­ing classes in 2012. “I al­ways feel good with the chil­dren. Their par­ents love me and the other teach­ers and prin­ci­pals I have had are won­der­ful,” she says. She likes to do Latin danc­ing in her spare time. She dreams of hav­ing chil­dren of her own and lately has been feel­ing flut­ters be­cause she has “met some­one.” She has been jointly in charge, with an­other teacher, of a class in the Jer­monito preschool since Jan­uary. “I have a boy with Down syn­drome in my class. He is won­der­ful,” she says. “Oh, it is lovely when some­one like me is born.” — AFP

CORDOBA: Noelia Garella, a kindergarten teacher born with Down Syn­drome, plays with chil­dren at the Jeromito kindergarten. — AFP photos

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