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Williamstown Teacher Honored by State Down Syndrome Congress
By Rebecca Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:39PM / Friday, March 31, 2017
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Miceli poses with her fifth-grade class.

Frani Miceli's class participates in World Down Syndrome Day in honor of their classmate Cole by wearing crazy socks to school.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A Williamstown Elementary School teacher has been named the Educator of the Year by the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress.

Fifth-grade teacher Frani Miceli was nominated for the award by Steve and Donna Narey, whose son Cole has Down syndrome and has been with Miceli for both fourth and fifth grades. Miceli joined other award recipients as well as Principal Joelle Brookner and paraprofessional Kelly Galusha at a ceremony in Worcester on March 25.

"One of the reasons the kids in Cole's class are so wonderful to him and want to include him is because Frani does," Donna Narey said. "She sets the tone for inclusion, not only for her class but also for the rest of the school."

Officials with the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress said there were several reasons why they chose Miceli for the honor. First, she sets an example for all her students in the classroom as well as on the playground and encourages Cole's fellow students to be inclusive. Since his time in the classroom can be limited, she makes sure to maximize that time for the benefit of Cole and his peers. For example, she will often allow Cole to pick an activity and have his peers participate with him so they learn together.   

Also, as Cole is non-verbal and uses adaptive sign language, Miceli has made the effort to learn sign language herself and then teach the whole class. She has made a point to have a day in October for her students to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness month. She even has encouraged inclusiveness beyond the school grounds, inviting the class to join Cole’s Buddy Walk team and to root for him in the Special Olympics.  

In her speech accepting the award, Miceli said having had Cole in her class for two years has improved her life in many ways.

"As a teacher, I've learned some things from Cole," she said. "I've learned kids develop at different paces, but development will come. That being nice can't be measured by a test, but that it's just as important."

Miceli said Cole has improved the lives of the other 17 students in her class as well.

"Any teacher knows that every once in awhile you get one of those magical classes. A class of kids who are exceptionally kind. A group of kids who enjoy learning and playing with each other. A class you miss over the weekend. That's the makeup of my class this year," she said. "The kids in my room embody kindness, which I believe they have learned because of having Cole as a classmate."

Miceli said that she recently asked her students what Cole has taught them and read some of their responses:

• "Cole has taught us to have a bright outlook and to enjoy life."

 "That being different doesn't matter."

• "That it's possible to talk using your hands instead of your voice."

• "Cole has also taught us to stand up for what's right."

Miceli also shared that her students thought the "Educator of the Year" award should actually go to Galusha, who is Cole's one-on-one paraprofessional.

"I think they have a point," she said. "I'd like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Kelly for all of her work with Cole. I'm thankful that both Kelly and my principal, Joelle Brookner, accompanied me here today. I'm thankful for this award. I'm thankful for my sweet students. I'm thankful for Donna and Steve Narey for entrusting me with their son. And I'm thankful for Cole."

Brookner said the award is "well-deserved" by Miceli.

"Inclusion is one of the core values of WES, and it is wonderful that one of our teachers was recognized for her work in that regard," she said, adding that she loved that Miceli openly recognized Galusha during her speech at the ceremony. "Both Frani and Kelly are wonderful educators and they are symbols of what we stand for here and the kind of community all our staff strives to create at WES. 

"How do I feel? So proud."

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