When Lisa Strieter found out that her youngest daughter Jessie had Down Syndrome, she knew her world was going to change.
The Stony Point resident discovered Jessie had Down Syndrome after she gave birth to her, and was not sure what to expect.
“I was extremely shocked,” she said. “I had started to make phone calls immediately, to find out what we could do as far as services for her.”
Today, Jessie is 16 years old and learning remotely through North Rockland High School during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision was made to have her stay home because of her heart condition, a common co-morbidity for individuals with Down Syndrome, and the strokes she has suffered within the last two years. Her 21-year-old sister Halle, a junior at Siena College, moved back home to help take care of her.
Halle expressed feeling disheartened over having to miss out on socialization in college, but knows she is doing the right thing for herself and her sister.
“If we’re being blunt and honest, it has not been the easiest,” she said. “This year has really opened up my eyes to different friendships, different relationships just all throughout my life in every area.”
She has watched as peers of hers on social media are breaking public health protocols in the midst of a pandemic, but feels humbled by the responsibilities she has taken on as both a sister and a caregiver during this time.
“I definitely grew up so early,” she said of her upbringing. “Everyone jokes around and my mom always says that [I] was ironing [my] underwear at four years old. But I’m fortunate of that because I think that it just makes me well rounded in every area.”
As a second grade teacher at Stony Point Elementary School, the experience of raising a daughter with special needs has both humbled Lisa and empowered her to create an inclusive environment for her students with special needs.
“We have to teach them from a young young age about tolerance and acceptance,” she said. “We are all the same on the inside. We all feel the same. We may look different.”
She does feel that a climate of acceptance and inclusion of students with disabilities is growing, as more students with special needs are being brought into mainstream classroom settings.
“I was actually telling my kids today in my class when I was a little girl, I didn’t have children in my school with special needs. They were segregated. I explained that to [my students] and they couldn’t believe it,” she said. “With the children in my class, I’m trying to really let them know these children that are in our school that have special needs, so that they can always be lifelong friends with them as well.”