Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Exceptional team gives tribute to a very special girl after a 12 year partnership

We have been blessed to be in a small, caring community. Tori started school on my campus at the age of 3. She was mainstreamed in a regular education classroom as much as possible. On the playground she was surrounded by kids who always wanted to help her out. When she was in kinder, she met our school's PEIMS secretary's daughter, Carly Bass.  Our families had had a connection since her older sister had been in my classroom and her mother and I became friends. I have a picture that I keep on my desk of Carly and Tori walking hand in hand at our school's costume parade. Through the years Carly has maintained a special place in her heart for Tori and kept an eye on her as they moved through the school system.
  Tori has been well known in this community. I have taught first grade here for 18 years and often talk openly with my students about her and the challenges she faces. Her two older sisters cheered and participated in sports, so Tori was out and about in the community. For the past few years, the students and many of the faculty have been extremely supportive of my fundraising efforts with gp2c by sponsoring "Gardens of Hope" during Rett Syndrome Awareness month.  Karen Smith, a fellow teacher, even joined Team Tori the past few years and is running again in 2018!

This year her team of teachers, fellow students, and some community members went over and above to make sure her last year with the district would be special. In November, Erin Springs (a second grade teacher and a mom of one of Tori's classmates who also happens to be a former student of mine), gathered the students who had been in school with Tori since kindergarten together and had them surprise us with a show of support at the senior pep rally. They asked me to come and speak about Rett Syndrome and my t-shirt sale fundraiser. As I was speaking with Tori by my side, they silently filed across the gym behind us wearing the shirts I was selling that said "Tori Texan Tough".  (we are the Wimberley Texans) 

Fast forward to prom. I had asked her teachers if they would meet us at the prom so Tori could go in with them for an hour or so, just to experience it. They started making plans and before I knew it, they took all the junior and senior members of their life skills class that wanted to participate, out to dinner AND to prom. They had such a good time with them that they were late bringing them back to the high school because they were all having too much fun! 

The last event of the year was graduation. I had requested that Tori walk across the stage to receive her diploma and the plan had been for one of her teachers to escort her. A week or so before graduation, they asked if one of my daughters wanted to escort her. They really wanted to sit with the family and watch though. One day, a few days later, my school secretary, Janiece Remeny, and her daughter, Carly, came by my room. On a whim, I asked Carly if she would want to escort Tori across the stage and she said, "Yes!!!" We talked about how Tori could be unsteady on her feet and nervous, but Carly said she was honored to escort her.  They practiced walking together several times and I assured her there would be a teacher near by at all times in case she needed help.  The great part of this story is that Tori loved every minute of it and her and Carly did an awesome job! They crossed the stage together to whoops and applause! It was the one time that Tori got to blend in with her peers and we were so grateful and proud! 

Her teachers, Karin Prado, Ryan Durkin, Melissa Cockerham, Cristy Cruz, Mackenzie Heintze, Cassie Mahlie, Beth Nettles, Brooke Hicks, and Cindy Klossner overcame many obstacles to ensure that Tori's senior year was full of love and great memories. They held a chili, cornbread, and dessert cook off contest to help raise money for Team Tori's Disney Princess run. They got many of her classmates involved in the Special Olympics and Tori had a wonderful PAL (Peer Assisted Leadership class), named Alexa, who spent time with her throughout the school year. They made sure these kids got out in the community and learned many valuable life lessons. They did their best to help others see past Tori's difficulties and see that in many ways, she's just like her peers.

Tori's classmates and their families have supported her by contributing to our fundraising efforts. Although it's hard for them to communicate with her, they have shown an interest in her Syndrome throughout her years at WISD and brought me to tears when they voted to have the monies received during the baccalaureate ceremony this year donated to gp2c in Tori's honor. Their collection raised a total of $624! 

While we have had our hurdles to climb, living in this community has been a blessing. We are forever grateful to the ones who have stood by our side and supported us without waiver through the years! Special shout out to Amy Canter, Kathy Lindsey, and Melissa Simpson, her OT, PT, and speech therapists, who have been with her off and on for her journey through WISD. 

written by:  Lisa Krauskopf
We wish you the very best of luck in your next adventure Tori!!