News & Media

The Joy of Acceptance

11/17/2014 Lancaster Newspaper By LNP Editorial Board

The Issue On Oct. 17, a teen with Down syndrome was named homecoming queen at Hempfield High School. The month before, two members of Ephrata High School’s homecoming court gave their spots in the Ephrata Fair parade to two students with special needs.
When Kayshale Santiago, a senior at Hempfield High School, was voted onto the homecoming court, some of the other girls on the court decided that if they won, they’d give the crown to Kayshale.
It wasn’t necessary.
Kayshale was voted homecoming queen by the student body.
The Hempfield student just happens to have Down syndrome.
Her queenly credentials are numerous: She participates in the school chorus and Hempfield’s Mini-Thon, and she has performed in the high school’s variety show and school assemblies. She’s also an active member of the San Juan Bautista Catholic Church chorus.
Her two escorts included Alec Martin, a fellow member of the school’s Buddy Club, which was founded last year to bring regular education students together with special needs students to socialize.
Kayshale was said to be overjoyed by her triumph. The spectators in the stadium were emotional. A fan of the opposing team — Conestoga Valley — later posted on Facebook that she felt glad to have witnessed Kayshale’s crowning.
Kayshale’s mother, Glenda Roman, was in tears the whole evening. “It was the most amazing experience,” she said. “I just felt a tremendous blessing.”
“It's awesome, because this is what we need — acceptance.”
Students with special needs aren’t always accepted. They are excluded, sometimes, by other kids — and sometimes, by adults.
The students at Hempfield, and the school’s homecoming court, have chosen another way: They’ve embraced a fellow student who clearly has a great deal to offer.
Kayshale’s experience at Hempfield is an inspiration.
She’s an inspiration.
And she’s not the only one.
The next time you’re tempted to rail against the self-absorption of kids today, please think of Katie Hammaker and Morgan Weaver.
They were members of this year’s homecoming court at Ephrata High School. They’re also on the school’s field hockey team, so when a game coincided with the Ephrata Fair parade on Sept. 24, something had to give.
Turns out, it was they who gave.
They gave their spots in the parade to Natasha Martin and Amber Brubaker, who are in the Life Skills class at Ephrata High School.
The Life Skills class serves students with disabilities. Katie Hammaker volunteers in that class.
“I just thought it would make them feel so special,” Katie told LNP.
Amber’s father, Jan Brubaker, called it “a dream come true” for his daughter, whom he described as “one of the most beautiful people I know.”
The joy on the girls’ faces as they were driven through the streets of Ephrata was infectious.
People lining the streets yelled and waved enthusiastically, as the girls waved back with such royal grace they put Kate Middleton to shame.
It was a lovely, unforgettable moment for Ephrata, and for the girls and those who love them.
And it was a moment that made this truth crystal-clear: Acceptance, as Kayshale Santiago’s mother said, is what we need.
As the students at Ephrata and Hempfield showed us, accepting people of different abilities shouldn’t merely be an obligation. It’s a joy.