Anyone who enters Pam Wise’s classroom at ACDS in Plainview can expect a warm greeting from Wise’s teacher assistant, Jeanne McHale. “I’m here,” she cheerfully announces, with a big grin that can light up any room.
McHale has been “here” at ACDS for more than 30 years. Along with her two sisters, who also have Down syndrome, McHale has attended ACDS since preschool. After completing high school, McHale returned to ACDS to work at the preschool.
As a teacher assistant, McHale assists with arts and crafts projects, photocopy tasks, snack time drinks and cleanup chores. She’s an instrumental part of “free play,” sorting through toys and placing them into appropriate bins to keep things neat and organized.
“Jeanne takes ownership of various jobs within the classroom and performs them diligently and with pride,” Wise said.
Her exemplary work ethic (and 30-year tenure as an employee) earned McHale a recognition award, which was presented to her during ACDS’ 2015 St. Patrick’s Celebration on March 7. No one could be prouder than her parents, Jim and Sheila McHale, both honorees themselves, for 45 years of advocating for individuals with developmental disabilities. Jim has been an ACDS board member for nearly a decade.
Agency staff agrees that the honor is very well-deserved.
“I have known Jeanne for 30 years and have always been impressed with her engaging personality, sense of humor and desire to fully participate in all aspects of our school, including major activities and fundraising events scheduled outside of school hours,” said Cecilia Barry, principal of ACDS’ preschool. “And if there’s an ACDS sponsored dance, you can bet you’ll find Jeanne leading her partner on the dance floor, especially if Elvis Presley or Kenny Rogers are part of the soundtrack.”
But it’s McHale’s deep dedication to her students—or “her kids,” which she affectionately calls them—where her work really shines through. “Jeanne shares her care, time, and love with our children,” Wise said. “She talks to them, she plays with them, and she cares so much when they are not feeling well. Her hugs are wonderful.”
When one student “shut down” and refused to perform his scheduled tasks, McHale got him to laugh and smile, and ultimately, complete a puzzle, which he did quickly and willingly. Soon the child was working with his teachers again.
“Jeanne is an integral part of our school, the soul of our mission, and she arrives each day ready to work with the children, socialize with her friends and take charge of her assigned duties,” Barry said. “She is a productive school employee, embraces her responsibilities, looks to have fun with family and friends, and is living life to its fullest. Certainly an attitude we should all emulate.”