Photography by Dianne Carroll Burdick
Caledonia — Ashley Johnson paused before a recent story time and asked her preschoolers, “Why are we wearing our silly socks today?”
“It’s mismatched sock day,” one student replied, stumbling slightly over the syllables of the word “mismatched.”
Some pulled over pant legs and others peeking out of shoes, students’ socks featured colorful cheetahs and sloths, chips and guacamole, and strawberries and bananas; things that are different but can still be better together.
Johnson agreed and explained to the circle of students, “Friends, it’s Down Syndrome Awareness Day.”
Wearing her own mismatched socks decorated with ice cream and donuts, Johnson read “You Are Enough: A Book About Inclusion.”
The book and all the socks were donated by the Hamzagic family to Johnson’s and every other classroom at the Duncan Lake Early Childhood Center to spread awareness about Down syndrome.
Esmina Hamzagic is a mom to two young sons, 4-year-old Harun, a student at the ECC, and his younger brother, Amar.
Harun has Down syndrome, but his mom said his differences have not hindered his abilities to make friends at the ECC.
“These kids don’t see my son’s Down syndrome,” she said. “They see him as another student who plays with them and likes dinosaurs and coloring.”
In Harun’s first year attending the ECC, Hamzagic and her family wanted to do something to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, held every year on March 21, and to educate staff and students about different abilities.
“Last year, we sent some videos for teachers to share with their students about Down syndrome, but this year we went bigger,” Hamzagic said.
An online fundraiser to get mismatched Pals Socks for Harun’s classmates raised almost $4,000 in eight hours.
“We didn’t know how successful we’d be, or that we’d raise enough to get socks for the entire school,” she said. “We got such a huge response from family and friends, it was absolutely amazing. We were blown away.”
The Hamzagics purchased 300 pairs of socks for the ECC’s students and staff, and had funds left over to invest in new books for every classroom about celebrating differences and extra copies for the school library.
“We picked out a specific book written by Sofia Sanchez, a 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome,” Hamzagic said. “She talks about different disabilities and how every person is special, worthy and enough.”
On March 21, the whole Hamzagic family wore mismatched socks and Harun celebrated with his teacher, Danielle Boston, and his friends in the morning class.
She added: “These kiddos will meet someone in their lifetime who has Down syndrome, and teaching acceptance at an early age will have such an impact on how they interact with people who are different from them.”