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PfISD teacher honored by Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas

May 14, 2020


While teachers across the country recently received an outpouring of support and love during Teacher Appreciation Week, one Pflugerville ISD teacher received an extraordinary recognition that showed just how much she was appreciated. 

Susan Thompson, an essential academics teacher at Hendrickson High School, has been named the Lori Tullos Barta Educator of the Year by the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas. The award is given annually on March 21, World Down Syndrome Day, but this year the announcement and an in-person celebration have been put on hold due to COVID-19.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion when I was told I was DSACT Educator of the Year. I didn't believe it at first,” Thompson said. “Once it did sink in, I was honored and felt proud. I was also so thankful for the Licon family for thinking of me and taking the time to nominate me.” 

Parents of students with Down syndrome may nominate a teacher they believe has had an undeniable impact on their child’s life and their own, someone who goes above and beyond expectations to stand out from the crowd. A nomination from Hendrickson parent Erica Licon showed that Thompson was more than deserving of this prestigious honor.

“Susan treats my daughter with respect, and despite my daughter’s chronic speech delay, Susan communicates with her and praises her often, building her confidence to speak to others,” Licon said. “She encourages independence and promotes excellence in teaching. I trust her; I trust her with my daughter; she knows my daughter.”

Thompson’s work with Licon’s daughter Ari has helped turn Ari’s experience at Hendrickson into a series of life-changing moments. Thanks to Thompson’s encouragement and teaching, Ari has discovered her voice and become a flourishing member of the Hendrickson community.

Ari was featured front and center with the Hendrickson Silver Dancers during a campus celebration honoring Hendrickson as a Special Olympics Unified Champions National Banner School. And in the fall, Ari was voted Homecoming Queen.

“I have been working at Hendrickson High for 15 years and have had the pleasure of seeing so many of my students grow from nervous freshmen to responsible and confident young adults.

“To witness all they can achieve is absolutely amazing,” Thompson said. “If you set high standards, they will reach them and surpass them.  

“I think my favorite part of teaching is allowing a student to feel safe to grow, not just academically and vocationally but also socially. This builds independence and maturity and in turn, my students can be members of our community, vocationally and socially.”

The work Thompson does with her students makes a lasting impact on them and their families. It does not go unnoticed on campus, either. Hendrickson Principal Daniel Garcia said Thompson’s love for her students shines through in how she connects with them and guides them through their journey on campus.

“Mrs. Thompson is committed to providing her students with amazing experiences and ensuring the life-long success of her students,” Garcia said. “She understands the importance of each student being provided opportunities so that they are able to maximize their potential. But I think that more than anything Mrs. Thompson understands her role as an advocate for her students. I could not think of an educator more deserving of this award and recognition.”

The Lori Tullos Barta Educator of the Year Award is presented to a deserving person or team to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day. With this award, the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas offers members the opportunity to recognize the person or team that has had an undeniable impact on their child and provided support. 

The award is named after Lori Tullos Barta (1971-2010) who launched several educational programs geared toward students with Down syndrome and was an advocate for including students with Down syndrome in all aspects of campus and community life so that they can reach their full potential.

DSACT Executive Director Jennifer Edwards said she is pleased to present Thompson with the award this year. Her organization looks forward to honoring a deserving teacher who has made a difference to their students every year.

“Educators are key partners with our member families to ensure children with Down syndrome lead full and happy lives," Edwards said. "With this award, DSACT offers our members the opportunity to recognize the person or team that has had an undeniable impact on their child's education. This year, DSACT is delighted to honor Susan Thompson, who exemplifies the same qualities Lori Tullos Barta did."

For more information about educational programs or assistance provided by the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas, please visit dsact.org.

Ari Licon and Susan Thompson