This post was written by: Luke Garrett, Summer Intern.
Pure joy is a strong sentiment to come by and, at times, even difficult to define. Despite this thorny truism, The Annual Kennedy School Awards Program transcended this elusiveness of joy and captured it in its purest form. The sincerity and magnitude of smiles, dances, and jubilant screams from special needs students receiving their awards were the sources of such delight. All in attendance cheered loud and proud, as staff members read the titles of academic and athletic achievements, as well as personal anecdotes about the student and a big hug.
The Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy School has specialized in serving students with special needs (i.e., Autism, Intellectual Disabilities, Emotional Disabilities, Learning Disabilities, and Traumatic Brain Injuries) since its creation in 1959. The Kennedy Family gifted this plot of land in Northeast D.C. along with $500,000 to the Sisters of Notre Dame to start a school for students with disabilities. After a number of years, the Sisters passed on the oversight of the school to its current owner, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.
Today, the 40 students at The Kennedy School range from ages six to 22 and are taught by a staff of 27 – consisting of Special Education Teachers, social workers, a speech pathologist, and administration. Dr. Paris L. Adon, Principal of The Kennedy School, loved by the students and staff, as shown by the erupting applause preceding his opening and closing remarks at the ceremony. In his words to the audience, he highlighted and praised the hard work of the students as well as the staff – who call themselves “The Kennedy Family.”
Staff members were also awarded at the ceremony. Constance Witte, a Speech and Language Pathologist, was awarded staff member of the year for the eagerness and excitement she brought into her work. After the ceremony, she shared her thoughts on The Kennedy School – this being her first year there. She spoke of the uniqueness of The Kennedy School, in that the lines are blurred on the staff – meaning the roles of the staff mix, as all work together to serve their students. Witte also commented on the ability of the staff members to create an environment that provides needed confidence to the students, which catalyzes growth in communication and language skills. “You can see the joy in learning here,” said Witte.
Another award winner was Chukwumezie “Chuku” Aninta, the sole Class of 2018 graduate. At the age of 22, he graduates out of the Kennedy school and joins an active community of Kennedy School alumni – many of whom attended the program and family-fun day. With The Kennedy School’s 100 percent employment rate upon graduation, Aninta will continue forward beyond his alma mater with a steady job and a strong community supporting him.
Although the summer season has now begun at The Kennedy School, and the students enjoy school vacation, work still goes on, as staff prepare for the summer school session, which starts on July 2, and continue to strive for their goal to become the no. 1 provider for students with disabilities in Washington, D.C. With Dr. Adon at the helm, the staff is confident in achieving this goal. At the end of Witte’s interview, she mentioned Dr. Adon’s ability to look at the big picture of special needs education as well as his personalized support of the staff. After the event, Dr. Adon spoke both soberly and joyfully about his team and school – ready for next year. For more information on the Kennedy School visit www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/kennedyschool/.