Evan Daikos, with his mother, Mary, was diagnosed with Down syndrome at the age of 10 months, but Evan, now 9, has excelled at St. Clement’s
Evan Daikos, with his mother, Mary, was diagnosed with Down syndrome at the age of 10 months, but Evan, now 9, has excelled at St. Clement’s School.

Evan Daikos is like the other kids at St. Clement’s School, except at 10 months old he was diagnosed with Down syndrome. He also has apraxia of speech, a speech-sound disorder. 

Exceeding in popularity, Evan just celebrated his ninth birthday party, a “Toy Story 4”-themed bash, with boys and girls from his third-grade class. But educational inclusion wasn’t ­always easy, his mother, Mary Daikos said.

After Daikos’ now 12-year-old daughter, Ella, was diagnosed with ADHD and transferred from the school she was attending to a public school, Mary became well-acquainted with the Ballston Spa school district. 

When it came time for Evan to go to pre-kindergarten, she met with the school district and felt their recommendations weren’t a good fit for him. Evan was non-verbal until the age of 41⁄2, interfering with the evaluation process. 

“They wanted him in a more special-ed program which I didn’t feel was right for him,” Daikos said, “I didn’t want his confidence to go down, so I made the decision to give him an extra year of pre-K before kindergarten.” 

A year and a half later, Evan graduated kindergarten from St. Clements; the school welcomed him without a second thought.  
“They provided him with speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, an aid and a special education teacher. All at St. Clements,” Daikos said. 

The main difference between the previous school Evan attended and St. Clements came down to a sincere desire to include her son, according to Daikos.

“When we were talking to our district about kindergarten at the time, I fought with them and in the end, I actually won, in that they were going to give me what I asked for, but I felt like they were doing it because they had to,” Daikos said.

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),  one of the primary tenets is that children with disabilities must be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). A child with disabilities should be in general education to the “maximum extent that is appropriate” and special classes, separate schools or removal from the general education class should only happen when the child’s disability is so severe that supplementary aids and services can’t provide the appropriate education. 

“I felt like the difference at St. Clement’s is that they don’t HAVE to do anything, but they want to,” Daikos said. 

Throughout the day, Evan has a special-ed teacher, Terry Aspland, the same teacher he’s had since kindergarten, to assist in English Language Arts (ELA) and math class, reinforcing the lesson  as the teacher talks. 

He also has an aid, who Evan refers to as his ‘helper teacher,’ who is with him all day throughout the school week. 

At the end of every school year, Evan and his mother attend an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting with his teacher, special-ed teacher and his therapists to discuss how he’s done that school year, what he needs and what to expect in the upcoming year.

Come evaluation time, Jane Kromm, the school’s principal, asked, ‘What can we do differently?’ 

“This was great because there may be some challenges, but St. Clement’s is always looking to see how we can work together to find a solution, and not just dwelling on the perceived problem,” Daikos said. 

His teachers aren’t the only ones who have welcomed Evan with open arms. 

“People call him the mayor of that school,” Daikos said, “I mean seriously, from the principal, the teachers, the custodians, the administrative staff, the priests, everybody knows and loves Evan.” 

Daikos reflects back on a time when she used to be sensitive about Evan needing extra help. In kindergarten at a bouncy-house party, he struggled to climb the ladder to get to the top to go down the slide. Suddenly there was a gaggle of children behind him pushing up the ladder, with everyone cheering for him. 

“That’s what it means to have friends. If your friend needs help, you’re going to help them” Daikos said,  “and he would do the same for any of them. So it’s not a big deal, he’s just one of the kids.”

When Evan grows up, he wants to be a police officer or doctor. His mother cites St. Clement’s as invaluable to laying the foundation for his future. 
Perhaps most importantly, Evan has become part of the school family, Daikos said.

“These kids are seeing daily that Evan is just ‘Evan’ — their friend and classmate. And he brings as much to their lives as they do his.”