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Donors strengthen a diocesan school program for students with special needs

Catholic Herald

Feb 8, 2024

“These generous contributions allow us to fulfill our mission because we believe that learning begins in a faith-filled, inclusive environment where the promise of every child is nurtured and developed according to our Gospel values,” said Principal Ann LaBarge.

The first pledge from Jennifer McIntyre was compiled from multiple gifts that were matched by her employer, the Boeing Company. The pledge amounted to more than $50,000. McIntyre has made gifts to the school since her oldest daughter entered kindergarten at the cathedral school in 2015. McIntyre’s youngest daughter, Annie, began attending the cathedral school in 2019 and became the first enrolled student with Down syndrome.

“I naturally envisioned her going to school with her older siblings and receiving the same faith formation and all of the other benefits of a Catholic education that her sister and brother were receiving,” McIntyre said.

The cathedral school embraced Annie as a member of the school community, McIntyre said. “They committed themselves to finding a way to meet her educational needs and make the necessary accommodations to include her fully in the life of the school. It has been a wonderful experience for Annie and for our family, and it is my hope that other similarly situated students and their families will have the same opportunity that we have had,” she said.

Following Annie’s experience, McIntyre felt called to give to the cathedral’s Bridges for More program. “I have been inspired to give in support of STM’s inclusive education effort so that Annie will not be just a flash in the pan. I hope she will be followed by many more students with special needs who come to STM School to learn and grow alongside their nondisabled peers,” McIntyre said.

Not long after McIntyre’s donation, a longtime parishioner of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More anonymously pledged an additional $90,000 for the program.

According to Christine Hughes, parish director of advancement, in high school the donor had worked at a camp for kids with Down syndrome and was moved by the experience.

“I do believe that, if the needs of such children and their parents are more widely known, other parishioners (including their kids) will be encouraged to support this effort, perhaps minimally at first but more sacrificially in time. As Catholics, we know that planting a seed in faith is a good way to begin,” the donor said.

Father Patrick L. Posey, cathedral rector, expressed his gratitude to the donors. “These separate gifts will enable us to provide a Catholic education for those families who desire it, and moreover, augment our inclusive education programs at the cathedral school,” he said.

The Bridges to More program originally focused on one-on-one instruction between the teacher and student. The recent donations will provide additional program training for other faculty. The new training will help educators instruct special needs students alongside their peers within the larger classroom.

“By offering professional training to all our faculty, every child benefits in the classroom. It is my profound hope to grow our Bridges to More Program so that parents of children with differing abilities can find a home here; they can find more here,” Father Posey said.

“We look forward to being able to provide further professional development support to our teachers as well as being able to grow our program that includes fully integrating our students into our community of life and faith at St. Thomas More,” LaBarge said.

The two donations come on the heels of an additional donation of $225,000 from 2021, a bequest from Carl “Zeke” and Marie Sebenius. The couple were longtime cathedral parishioners. With no children of their own, they gave a portion of their life’s savings to the Arlington diocese and the cathedral school.

After Marie’s death in 2016, Zeke informed the cathedral and the Arlington diocese that they would be beneficiaries in his will. Following Zeke’s death in July 2021, the cathedral school was notified of the pledge amount that now provides tuition aid to school families.

“The investment in the future that they made for our students, it’s just positively tremendous, it’s just a wonderful testament,” said Hughes. “Their confidence in our administration and in our pastoral care by the rector and our bishop is just wonderful.”

Link in the Herald

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