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Griffin is a cheerful, young boy who happens to have Downs Syndrome. With a grant from Rosewood Foundation, he is able to attend St. John the Evangelist School in Streamwood.

Gina Markel, Griffin’s mother, said that when the pandemic hit and their public school went to remote learning, she and her husband quickly learned their son needed in-person classes. She called several Catholic schools to see if they would accept her three children, noting Griffin’s special needs.

“The response from all three or four schools that I called was, ‘Oh, no, sorry. We can’t accommodate him,’” she said.

Then they called St. John the Evangelist and spoke to Principal Beth Wennerstrom. Wennerstrom said they would love to have Griffin and his siblings.  

“We had no idea as to how it was going to work out,” Markel said. “I just knew trying to do e-learning at the end of 2019 that it just wasn’t going to work for Griffin. The attention span just sitting in front of the computer wasn’t possible.”

Despite Griffin being old enough to be in kindergarten or first grade, the school started him off last year in preschool because they had a teacher and two aides at that level. Then Wennerstrom applied for a grant for an aide through the FIRE Foundation, which the school received last summer.

What started out as a temporary solution during the pandemic has turned into all of the kids enrolling at St. John the Evangelist and wanting to stay.

“I really feel like it was a huge win for our family,” she said. “It’s just unbelievable how we feel so connected to the school now. They are like a family to us.”

Griffin received local media attention after he scored a touchdown in October for the Bartlett Raiders during their homecoming game. The team set up a surprise for Griffin so he would get the ball during a play, but no one was really sure what would happen, Markel explained.

“Oh my gosh, did it work out,” she said. “We thought, ‘Yeah, you’re going to give him the ball but is he going to know where to go? Is he going to stop running or will he just keep running to the parking lot?’ He knew just what to do.”

Griffin is now in second grade and loving school along with football.

“This year he really, really is enjoying school,” Markel said.

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