New Castle Elementary celebrates Down Syndrome Day

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By Will Phillips

By Will Phillips



March 21 was World Down Syndrome Day and the students at New Castle Elementary had a very special reason to celebrate.

McKinley Paynter, a third grade student at New Castle who has Down Syndrome, has become a favorite amongst his classmates.

Principal Eric Davis said that he wants the event to bring awareness to the disorder, and to let the students learn about Down Syndrome in a comfortable environment. Davis, who has an older sister with the disorder, spoke to Paynter’s class about his personal experience with Down’s.

McKinley’s mother, Leesa Paynter , spoke to students and took questions from the class about Down Syndrome and her son’s specific needs.

One student asked her how McKinley had Down Syndrome if no one else in the family did, and Paynter responded, saying, “You can’t catch Down Syndrome.” After a moment’s thought, she continued, “It’s a gift from God. [McKinley] is a gift from God.”

All it takes is one person realizing that [people with Down Syndrome] are no different,” she added. “They’re the same. They may act different, but they’re the same.”

This is the first year that New Castle Elementary has celebrated World Down Syndrome Day, but Paynter and Davis both want to continue the tradition in the future. Paynter hopes that World Down Syndrome Day will catch on in the other schools in Henry County and that more students will become aware of it.

Many New Castle students and teachers “rocked their socks” for Down Syndrome on Friday, wearing tall, oddly colored, or otherwise interesting socks to draw attention to Down Syndrome. According to Paynter, some students at the high school also took part.

“All I know is, McKinley is loved. He is so loved in [Henry County],” Paynter said.

McKinley’s teacher, Angela Knust, said she is proud to see her class responding to World Down Syndrome Day.

“It shows me the kind of maturity they have, that I don’t think I had at that age. And they have a love for him that is just amazing. They take care of him and love on him,” Knust said. “And, as a teacher, it’s just really cool to see that, and it’s just really encouraging to see kids this young get it, and understand what it means.”