Luke LaRosa is a student at St. Peter of Alcantara School in Port Washington. In many ways he’s like all the other students in his kindergarten class. But he’s not like any other student. Luke has Down syndrome.
His parents, Clare and Vinny LaRosa of Port Washington, wanted nothing more than for their son Luke to attend the same school as his siblings: St. Peter of Alcantara Catholic School in Port Washington. Though the choices for a child with Down syndrome are limited, the LaRosas worked collaboratively with the Port Washington School District, the Diocese of Rockville Centre and St. Peter’s School to find the right fit for Luke.
“We chose this option because we wanted Luke in a school that’s close to home, we wanted him to go to school with his siblings and cousins, and we wanted him to attend Catholic school,” said Clare. “Essentially we wanted him in the school he would have gone to if he wasn’t disabled.”
Luke has six siblings; four attend St. Peter’s: Sara Rose is in 2nd grade, Elizabeth is in 3rd, Thomas is in 6th, Grace is in 8th. Two are in high school: Vincent is in 10th grade at Xavier in Manhattan and Emily is in 11th grade at Schreiber High School in Port.
Clare had a normal pregnancy and delivery with Luke. “Within minutes of him being born, the doctor said that he had Down syndrome,” said Clare. Two days after he was born, he was getting home care with a nurse and a physical therapist. “Early intervention took over within a few weeks,” said Clare.
At 2, Clare enrolled Luke in Mommy & Me at St. Peter’s to test the waters. He entered the 2s program at St. Peter’s, a two-day a week preschool program, when he was 3 years old. He was also receiving three days of therapies at home.
“We started the conversation with the school district when Luke was still in preschool,” said Clare. The Port school district, the diocese and St. Peter’s all came together to work out a plan. At age 5 he has integrated into St. Peter’s regular kindergarten class. “St. Peter’s opened its doors to Luke,” said Clare. “Both St. Peter’s and the Port school district worked collaboratively to get Luke in the right place.”
Luke receives physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, which are all services provided by the school district. He has a special education teacher with him throughout the day, the same as he would have if he were in a public or a special ed school.
“All the parents of students in his class got a letter to let them know Luke would be a part of the class,” said Clare. “All the parents embraced it.”
Barbara Bergin, director of the Little Learners Program at St. Peter’s, agrees. “All the kids benefit from having Luke as a classmate,” Bergin said. “There’s a lot to be gained on both sides. At the end of the day, he is a gift to the class.”
Robert Windorf, principal of St. Peter’s School, was very supportive of the LaRosas and helped facilitate the process.
“We are all very pleased to have Luke with us here at St. Peter’s,” said Principal Windorf. “Luke is such a joy and his classmates are indeed very supportive of him.”
Mrs. Carter, the regular kindergarten teacher, works in conjunction with Mrs. Gannon, the special education teacher with Luke in the class. Mrs. Carter said, “All the children love Luke.” Mrs. Gannon agreed. “Luke smiles all day long.”
“The year is going very well,” said Clare. “The kids in his class and the school are very receptive to Luke. He’s very well accepted across the board. The faculty has been great. The whole faculty and kids have known Luke since he was a baby. Everyone is very welcoming. Whatever was needed, they stepped up and did. We’re taking it one year at a time,” said Clare. “As long as it continues to be in everyone’s best interest, he will stay at St. Peter’s.”