ELYRIA — “Friends don’t count chromosomes.”
That was the message on the T-shirts of dozens of McKinley Elementary School students and staff Thursday on “Rock Your Socks” Day, honoring third-grader Cameryn Culver.
Cameryn, who has Down syndrome, and her family have helped raise awareness of the genetic disorder in Elyria Schools, and did so again Thursday on World Down Syndrome Day.
Down syndrome happens when a person has a third full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21, according to the National Down Syndrome Society. That gives the date of March 21, or 3/21, a special meaning.
To help raise awareness of 9-year-old Cameryn’s differences, students in teacher Cindy Czerski’s class crafted crazy socks on paper with stickers, googly eyes, felt, pipe cleaners and other craft materials.
Czerski paired up the paper socks her students made and hung them outside the classroom. She told the students that while each of their creations were socks and in pairs, “they’re all different, aren’t they?”
Many of the students and staff joined Cameryn and her parents, Megan and Michael, and wore crazy socks or bright colors for the day — purple and teal socks, neon orange and green socks, striped and frilly socks, pink and paisley socks.
Many also sported black T-shirts with blue and yellow ribbons on the front along with the message “Friends don’t count chromosomes,” and the hashtag #teamCameryn on the back with the number “21” in a circle.
Teachers and students throughout the district also rocked crazy, colorful socks to honor Cameryn and raise awareness, Elyria Schools spokeswoman Amy Higgins said.
The Down Syndrome International organization first coordinated a campaign called “lots of socks” to draw attention to Down syndrome by encouraging people all over the world to wear colorful socks and clothing, Higgins explained.
Megan Culver said there is a large Down syndrome community and organization in Cleveland she didn’t know about until her daughter was born. She said her family has found Elyria and the wider Northeast Ohio community “more accepting” over time.
For Cameryn to “see her name on the back of these shirts, she’s really excited,” Megan Culver said.
Cameryn, her classmates, teachers and guests also snacked on doughnuts with color sprinkles.
Czerski said she always tries to find “hands-on” projects to teach her students. Thursday’s event was a good lesson for student’s culture groups unit in social studies that “we’re more similar than we are different,” she said.
Czerski said she’s found that her students have been inclusive, accepting and helpful toward Cameryn, who has been at McKinley since kindergarten.
“It’s about making kids more aware and thinking on a spectrum” of humankind and abilities, she said.
Michael Culver said ever since his daughter was born, he has become immersed in the Down syndrome community and tries whenever he can to speak with those with Down syndrome when he sees them at the store or in public.
Not all adults with Down syndrome know there are support groups or resources for them in the region, he said. Michael Culver also said it’s heartwarming and impressive to see his daughter’s classmates accept Cameryn as one of their own without question.
“As adults, our compassion is learned,” he said. “Their compassion is honest compassion.”