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Sacred Heart Academy in Winchester recognized for hiring and supporting individuals with unique abilities

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Students from Sacred Heart Academy in Winchester got to take a little break from classes and attend an awards ceremony Oct. 16.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Sacred Heart Academy was recognized by the Virginia Division of Rehabilitative Services in Winchester with the “Champion Employer Award” as a result of hiring and supporting individuals with unique abilities. 

In a brief ceremony, the Virginia Division of Rehabilitative Services gave the award to Erica Palaza, principal, who spoke to the students after the presentation.

“Bishop Michael Burbidge has made a lot of efforts to include people with disabilities into our schools and parishes,” Palaza said. “He’s built communities for people with disabilities to help them get along in life just like we have when we hire people who work for Sacred Heart Academy and help them live fully productive lives,” she said. “Bishop Burbidge asks us to do the same thing with people with disabilities.”

Palaza said this month the students are going to focus on veterans with disabilities by collecting money for the Wounded Airman Program, through donating a dollar to wear jeans for a day instead of their uniforms.

She also taught the students about different disabilities, including ADD and ADHD, dyslexia and cerebral palsy.

“Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church and Academy have hired two Project SEARCH graduates and one graduate of Sherando High School’s special education program,” said Palaza. “These individuals provide custodial services, childcare services and teaching assistance.” 

Project SEARCH began in 1996 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, a research environment that serves and hires individuals with developmental disabilities.

“Although this is quite an honor for the academy, the true winners of this award are the employees themselves,” said Palaza. “We have been blessed with three thoughtful, energetic and dependable employees. They are not only dedicated to their line of work, but they bring joy to those who work with them.”

Joseph E. Vorbach III, superintendent of schools, said in a press release, “inclusive education is a growing priority across the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Arlington.

“With Bishop Burbidge's vision and support, schools are initiating new programs and expanding existing ones that benefit not only the students with intellectual disabilities, but also entire school communities as everyone becomes more acutely aware of individual differences and challenges,” he said.

Diane Elliott, assistant superintendent for the diocesan Office of Catholic Schools noted the importance of the award. “Employing individuals with disabilities helps to help the students recognize everybody’s differences and accept those differences,” she said. “As Mrs. Palaza said, we’re all created in the image and likeness of God. We need to see Jesus in everyone, and I think Sacred Heart’s award today helps us to remember that.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019