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O’Connell’s expanded services introduces a student to love of teaching

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Mentoring Thomas, a freshman with intellectual disabilities in a biology class, has led Caroline Jones to her path of study.

“It has been a really great experience being Thomas’ friend and working with his teacher to modify the lessons,” said Jones, a senior at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington. “I’ve really enjoyed it and I think that’s what I want to do with my life.”

Jones plans to major in philosophy and special education at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, setting her sights on earning a master’s in special education through their five-year program.

O’Connell offers expanded services for students with cognitive and intellectual disabilities to help them be part of an inclusive high school environment. Students receive support from peers like Jones.

Dennis McFadden, Jones’ biology teacher, called her an “exceptional student and collaborator.”

“I depend on her insights and suggestions in working with Thomas in biology class,” he said. “Not only does she provide a tremendous corporal work of mercy in her work with Thomas, but she also serves as an amazing role model to the ninth-grade students who watch the kindness and patience which she shows in her interactions.”

Susan Rinaldi, director of expanded services at O’Connell, said Jones took the role of peer mentor to an extraordinary level.

“From the beginning of the year, Caroline demonstrated an intuitive understanding for what motivates Thomas in a learning environment,” she said. “She possesses an inner calm beyond her years and has a natural gift for teaching others.”

Rinaldi said Jones has an innate ability to modify the curriculum for Thomas and communicates with his parents as a teacher would.

Jones looks for beauty in the subjects she studies by serving others.

“Thomas loves biology and his enthusiasm for the subject inspires me to learn more about it and appreciate it more fully,” she said.

In addition to her work with Thomas, Jones has tutored second-graders at Tuckahoe Elementary School in Arlington for two years as part of O’Connell’s Spanish Honor Society. As a freshman, she tutored ESL students at Greenbrier Learning Center in Arlington.

Active in the faith life at O’Connell, Jones helped this year with the FIAT (Faith in Action Team) Club, a group for women who want to deepen their relationship with God.

Two O’Connell retreats she attended were influential in seeing how prayer brings people together. “It also encouraged me to live out my faith and have it be a central part of my life,” she said.

One way she lives out her faith is as the treasurer of the pro-life group, Knights for Life. “It supports what I believe in, and part of what we do is support women who are in crisis pregnancies,” she said.

When she is not at school, Jones enjoys babysitting and playing piano.

Jones is a parishioner of St. Agnes Church in Arlington, where she leads monthly meetings for grade school students to help them grow in their faith through playing games, talking and praying together.

Jones said her high school experience has changed her into the woman she is today. “I was very quiet as a freshman,” she said. “I have learned how to be my own person and be that person at school. O’Connell helped me do that.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017