VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV)– Every Wednesday, you can find Noel Harden at Rio Grande Elementary School.
Harden, who has Down syndrome, has spent Wednesdays at the very school she attended since 2015. She works with the students and helps teachers around the building with whatever they need.
For her, the motivation is simple.
“The smiles on the kid’s faces,” she said. “It just brightens my day, and I enjoy seeing smiling faces.”
Harden spreads plenty of smiles too– to both the kids and adults throughout the building. One of her favorite things to do is read aloud to students. Kindergarten teacher Suzy Johnson said she enjoys watching Harden work in her classroom.
“We really appreciate her. She’s a great asset to Rio Grande Elementary and I think’s an asset to the community,” she said. “If I have items that need to be put together, booklets or things to be stapled, she’ll do things like that. She likes to work directly with the kids when she can.”
This year, Harden’s mom, Lacey Robinson, also started working at Rio Grande. Robinson, a 3rd grade teacher, said it’s been special to watch her daughter do what she loves.
“I’m very, very proud of her, but she teaches me things,” she said. “She has a way of looking at the world that, truly, I learned from her to look for the best, to never assume the worst.”
Tuesday, March 21st marked World Down syndrome Day. Robinson said she believes Harden has become a passionate advocate for others with Down syndrome.
“I have loved watching her grow from a child where she didn’t really realize that she had Down syndrome. She didn’t know for a long, long time, to now, to somebody that she’s an adult, she advocates for herself and the things that she says about having Down syndrome, and how it makes her special, she’s in no way sad that she has Down syndrome,” Robinson said.
“She’s proud of it, she celebrates it, she advocates for herself, she loves that she can be a spokesperson and tell people that people with Down syndrome have every single desire that everybody else has.”
Johnson said she thinks Harden sets a wonderful example for children all around the school.
“I think it’s great for kids to see diversity on any level, but what’s interesting about kindergarten is, I’m not sure they really recognize any difference,” Johnson said. “She’s Noel to them, and they don’t really see anything different about her. They just love her and want to give her hugs and smiles and climb in her lap sometimes.”
Harden said she wants to continue to work with the students closely in the future. And whether she’s helping them read or write, there’s one lesson she wants every student to come away with.
“We’re also teaching the students how special they are, in his or her own way,” she said.