The Catholic Herald
May 17, 2022
If Zach Fowler’s coworkers were to give the instructional assistant a grade, he’d likely get an A.
“He’s our shining light,” said Elizabeth Kappes, school nurse at St. Leo the Great School in Fairfax. “Zach brightens everyone’s day,” said David DiPippa, principal. “Every time he comes with a smile and he does this work very nicely,” said Shervin Rahai, instructional assistant. “I’m so glad he’s here.”
For several years, Catholic schools in the Arlington diocese worked to welcome and include students with special needs in the classroom. Now, many are hiring people with special needs, too. Zach, a 23-year-old with Down syndrome, is one of those new employees. “It makes sense that if we’re offering inclusive education in elementary and high school, then the next step would be the employment piece,” said DiPippa.
A collaboration between the Mason LIFE Program at George Mason University in Fairfax, Porto Charities, a local nonprofit that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and diocesan Catholic schools led to a pilot internship program for LIFE students during the 2019-20 school year, said Christine Fowler, Zach’s mom and a director at Porto Charities.
Now, several diocesan schools employ people with special needs including Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Vienna, St. Veronica School in Chantilly, St. Joseph School in Herndon, St. Mary of Sorrows Preschool in Fairfax, Holy Spirit School in Annandale, Our Lady of Hope School in Potomac Falls, Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington and St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly.
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