Dandy Award

Dandy Award

On May 3rd, the six-month anniversary of The National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion, we decided to honor inclusive Catholic educators who are the silent, heroic, fly-under-the-radar-just-do-the-right-thing type. The award highlights people who have been inclusive just because it is the right thing to do…they have unhesitatingly said yes and found a way to make it work. They are doing the work behind the scenes…without any glory…just because of their humble faith and their dedication to all students.

We have called this award The Dandy Award. The award winners will receive a note of commendation and a personalized key ring as a token of appreciation.

May 2015 Recipients

Miss Retseck and Mrs. Clark •  Former Principal and Current Principal of St. Matthew’s Cathedral School in South Bend, IN

Dandy AwardWe’re starting with Miss Retseck, former principal at St. Matthew Cathedral School in South Bend, Indiana, along with the current principal, Mrs. Clark. Miss Retseck was featured in a story of inclusive opportunity that Rick Becker shared in Catholic Exchange in April. Rick wrote about his son Nicholas who has Down syndrome and who is a 3rd-grader at St. Matt’s thanks to Miss Retseck’s initiative and Mrs. Clark’s continued support.

In his article, Rick wrote this about Nick’s participation in the community of St. Matt’s School: “Lots of life, room for weakness, and opportunities for goodness – little opportunities, small gestures of kindness, both given and received. That’s St. Matthew Cathedral School in a nutshell, an incubator of love, and thus a microcosm of the Church. Thank you, thank you thank you, Miss Retseck and Mrs. Clark! People like you are changing the world one student, one family at a time. “

November 2015 Recipients

Sister Stacy, Father Alberto, Miss Martha, Mrs. Camarena, Miss Rose • Nativity Catholic School in El Monte, CA

In honor of the inclusive efforts of Nativity School, the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion dedicates this Dandy Award on this day, January 24th, 2016. (Given during Catholic Schools Week in 2015) We are grateful for the leadership and vision of Sister Stacy and for the efforts of all faculty and staff at Nativity School to create a school dedicated to compassion, learning, faith and social justice.

May 2016 Recipient

Mrs. Margaret Stanton • 2nd grade teacher • St. James Catholic School in Davis, CA


On May 3rd, 2016, Mrs. Margaret Stanton was honored with The Dandy Award. Mrs. Stanton is a 2nd grade teacher that is naturally inclusive and accommodating. Mrs. Stanton intuitively sees a need for a student and offers a differentiated approach. She will work with students to provide what they need to be successful. It can be an additional support to a desk to help feet feel firmly planted and comfortable; specific tools provided to a student as needed throughout the day for an incentive or a sensory break; supplemental materials for student success or in this case, specific instruction with a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Teacher from the county to teach all students in her class American Sign Language so that one student is given the gift of communication and respect from her peers. Most of all, Mrs. Stanton knows how to foster a sense of belonging and connection. In her own words: “Every person belongs” and when you believe that, you find way to make that a reality within the classroom. We are grateful to Mrs. Stanton for her leadership and her example for inclusion.

This is an excerpt of the nomination for Mrs. Stanton:

“As I sit here this morning, I am so grateful for Mrs. Stanton and felt the desire to write this. I know that my husband could add many other thoughts as well but here are some. I know there are many others, but this is what is on my heart this morning.

Here are some of the thoughts:

*before school started in the fall, we asked to have Lyla visit the classroom to get familiar with it in an effort to reduce anxiety. When Lyla visited, Mrs. Stanton gave Lyla attention but also gave her space to explore. In a very touching gesture, we learned then, for the first time, that Mrs. Stanton had taken a college class in American Sign Language (ASL) that summer, knowing Lyla was coming into her class, so that she could have that connection with Lyla in the classroom. During the year, she uses her ASL knowledge to support Lyla, by fingerspelling words from across the classroom that Lyla needs.

*knowing the struggles that we face with Lyla, at her fall SST meeting, she asked what her afternoon schedule was like. We told her of the things that normal kids get to do – go to sports practices (soccer, swimming, karate, etc)—and then we shared the other appointments she had to do because of her hearing loss and other medical issues – weekly speech with both a school district SLP and a health care SLP, therapy for mental health, and various doctor appointments, including regular hearing tests, for other various health issues. After listening intently, instead of commenting on how she hasn’t gotten her classwork done for lack of focus or doesn’t always get her homework in, she suggested that we not worry about getting homework in each day but instead turn it in when we can and if we can.

*knowing the loneliness of being the only hard-of-hearing child in the entire school, she welcomes the county Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) teacher on a weekly basis to teach a 15 minute lesson in ASL to the entire second grade class. For Christmas, the class learned the ASL for Silent Night to perform in the school Christmas pageant. Not only did the children really enjoy this, but it meant a lot to Lyla to feel like a special blessing to her class rather than just one who has special needs.

*on days when Lyla is struggling emotionally, even if that emotional struggle displays itself as difficulty managing anger rather than silent tears, Mrs. Stanton provides support without judgment or anger or punishment. Rather, she removes her carefully from difficult situations, gives her time to process her feelings, and welcomes her back into class when she is ready. At the same time, she provides helpful feedback, again without annoyance or irritation, to her parents about strategies or approaches to helping Lyla with these struggles.

I cannot say enough about what a blessing Mrs. Stanton is to Lyla, our family, all of her students, and the St. James School community. I am so grateful that God shared Mrs. Stanton’s special skills with our family. It has been healing to all of us simply to know that Lyla spends the day with someone so extraordinary.

Thank you for this opportunity to show our appreciation for Mrs. Stanton.”

Enjoy this newspaper article about Mrs. Stanton: http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/st-james-teacher-honored-for-inclusiveness/

November 2016

Mrs. Dana Corcoran • Principal • Immacualata Catholic School in Durham, North Carolina

Mrs. Corcoran with her students at Immaculata Catholic School in Durham, North Carolina.

“Every child can learn.” That is Mrs. Dana Corcoran’s motto as principal of Immaculata Catholic School in Durham, NC.

This was the opening sentence of Mrs. Corcoran’s nomination for the Dandy Award.

The nomination went on describing Mrs. Corcoran’s willingness to open the doors to students who were not traditionally welcome in Catholic schools. Students with Down Syndrome, autism, ADHD, learning delays, second language learners and those students with hearing impairments.

Mrs. Corcoran wasn’t just interested in opening the doors, though. She was motivated to help the school be successful in the welcome.

The nomination went on: “Mrs. Corcoran has hired additional resource teachers this year and brought in an outside expert to speak to our full staff about understanding the Autism spectrum. She truly believes that we are all made in the image of God and that our uniqueness makes us interesting (she once brought an auditorium full of parents to tears with a speech about diversity). Without Mrs. Corcoran’s leadership, Immaculata would not be the special, inclusive place that it is. We are so proud and thankful for her!”

We are thankful for Mrs. Corcoran’s leadership and example as well. We honor her with the Dandy Award and hold her school, students, teachers and herself close as she continues her good work.

To read more about Immaculata’s resources, visit http://www.immaculataschool.org/educational-philosophy.html

May 2017

Father Pat, Mr. Halstead, Mrs. Bates and Sister Theo • Blessed Trinity Catholic School in Ocala, Florida

Congratulations to Gus! THANK YOU to Father Pat, Mr. Halstead, Mrs. Bates and Sister Theo at Blessed Trinity Catholic School -Dandy Award Winners!

CHEERS and HOORAY to Father Pat!
When asked if a student with a disability could be included at school, he responded: “You do your part, we’ll do our part, and God will take care of the rest.”

Father Pat’s response was a beautiful leap of faith…he modeled standing in the margins for his parish and school…he demonstrated that you didn’t need to have all of the answers, you just needed your faith.

THREE CHEERS to Mr. Halstead, principal of Blessed Trinity.
When Mr. Halstead was asked about including a student with autism named Gus, his response was another example of both leadership and embracing the Growth Mindset: “Let’s try it!”

Mr. Halstead said YES.

Mr. Halstead had never had a student with autism but that didn’t stop him…he had the power of YET.

Here is part of the nomination letter from Heidi, Gus’ mom. Her words are powerful and speak to the isolation so many parents feel and to the depth of gratitude families feel when a school agrees to try.

“I could tell you story after story about times that Mr. Halstead has gently encouraged hesitant teachers to push themselves and grow. As you know, when a teacher has to broaden the way they teach for one student, the teacher becomes better for all the students. At the beginning of each year, teacher after teacher has said, “I have no experience with teaching children with autism, so tell me what works for Gus.” That attitude is exactly what works for Gus. We’ve learned together when to accommodate and when to push.”

The entire faculty at Blessed Trinity adopted a Growth Mindset.

They found a way…they worked in tandem with Gus’ family…and they didn’t quit when glitches happened.

They believed in the mission of including students with disabilities enough to get out of their comfort zone.

THREE CHEERS to Mrs. Bates, Gus’ 3rd grade teacher. Mrs. Bates believed in Gus…she held the vision for Gus and supported him on his way…her belief helped Gus to believe in himself.

Last year, as his 7th grade Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Bates could see directly the seeds of independence and competence she had sown a few years earlier.

THREE CHEERS to Sister Theo…her constant presence of acceptance and love through all of the years, helped Gus to feel supported and secure.

As the school nurse, Sister Theo provided a safe haven for Gus whenever things seemed overwhelming in the classroom.

This insight from Heidi echoes how every parent feels when their child is fully included at a Catholic school:

“There’s no way Gus would be where he is today if he was not in a loving, Catholic environment. Every IEP meeting and teacher conference began with a prayer. If Gus got too overwhelmed or frustrated for the classroom, he was able to go to the nurse’s office and “walk it off.” Sister Theodozia Namuddu, our school nurse, has been such an important part of Gus’s journey. She would let Gus pace, say a prayer with him, and send him back to class. I mean, seriously! It doesn’t get any better than that!!! You have to imagine Sister Theo with her sweet Ugandan accent saying, “Our boy must be doing so well because I never see him anymore!”

Gus is indeed doing very well…in a few weeks he will graduate 8th grade and begin high school at Blessed Trinity Catholic High School…another inclusion first for the school!

We are so very proud of Blessed Trinity.

THANK YOU for leading the way in inclusion in Catholic schools.
THANK YOU for saying YES.
THANK YOU for living your social justice mission.

November 2017 Recipient

Headmaster Mike Deely, John Paul II High School – Hendersonville, Tennessee

Mike Deeley Receiving the Dandy Award


Mike Deely, Headmaster of JPII High School, is a passionate advocate for inclusion. Credited for beginning the Options Program at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, Mike moved to Nashville looking for another inclusive Catholic high school. He found JPII who already had the Hand in Hand Program. Working to advance inclusion across the Diocese of Nashville, Mike worked to help encourage St. Ann’s Catholic School to begin a similar program to Hand in Hand.

Mike’s faith, encouragement and can-do attitude allow inclusion to flourish at JPII. His example and willingness to be a resource to others who are just beginning have been a blessing to many.

It is with JOY that we honor such an impactful leader and faith-filled educator.

THANK YOU MIKE for being such a blessing!

May 2018 Recipients

Principal Pat Lofton, School Secretary Laurie Barrett, Facilities Manager, Tom Kohler – St. Thomas More Catholic School – St. Paul, Minnesota

Pat Lofton, Laurie Barrett and Tom Kohler of St. Thomas More Catholic School in St. Paul, Minnesota receiving The Dandy Award.


“Obstacles are not really obstacles, they are part of life’s journey.”

Those are the words of Principal Pat Lofton and that is the mindset and attitude that our Dandy Award seeks to highlight and honor. 

Pat Lofton was approached by a parent, Lisa Datta, about including her son, Nathan, into St. Thomas More. Nathan uses a wheelchair and has some executive functioning support needs but academically is very capable. Lisa was looking for a Catholic school that would see Nathan’s academic abilities, could support his physical needs and would surround him with high expectations and encouragement. She was welcomed by Mr. Lofton…and supported and encouraged by Laurie Barrett, the school secretary…and constantly amazed at the work of Tom Kohler in keeping the school elevator running smoothly.

It takes a village and Nathan and Lisa found it at St. Thomas More.

St. Thomas More doesn’t have any special fund, any special organization, or any special group of people who make inclusion happen…it has a mindset and a devotion to students…together, they found a way. As Mr. Lofton said, obstacles were not deal breakers…they were just part of life.

We are so very grateful for the good work of St. Thomas More and for the leadership of Mr. Lofton, the warm welcome of Laurie Barrett and the hard work of keeping the physical plant running smoothly by Tom Kohler.

THANK YOU for your leadership and example.

Here is a great story in the local Catholic paper:


Another great write up in the Jesuit Midwest Province News:


November 2018 Recipients

Father Kingsley, Principal Patti Dukes, Amber Knight, Meg Hoeft,  Lauren Ravenal, Karen LaMar, JP Nelson, Thad Miller – Nativity Catholic School – Charleston, South Carolina

Principal Patti Dukes joyfully receiving The Dandy Award from Maybelle.

When Dr. Cindi May nominated Nativity Catholic School for the Dandy Award…these are the words that touched our hearts and gave us such keen insight into the kind of school that Nativity is:
Cindi opens her nomination by acknowledging the trauma that her adopted daughter Maybelle had already lived through by losing her biological mother to brain cancer.
When she approached Nativity to accept Maybelle, who has Down Syndrome, this is the welcome she received:
“They modified her school work so that it was challenging at her level. They implemented a behavior plan to help her learn to be a good classmate and friend. When one effort failed, they came right back to the table to make a new plan. They celebrated every small victory, and never once saw the challenges as a barrier to Maybelle’s participation in the school…In fact, Nativity went above and beyond to make Maybelle a full member of the community. We told them that Maybelle was going to be baptized that year, as we wanted Maybelle to make her First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion with her classmates. In response, they invited Maybelle to be baptized at a school mass so that her friends and schoolmates could welcome her into the church. She received all three sacraments that year at school masses, with her friends, as a full participant.”
Maybelle’s inclusion has been a whole school effort…her growth, development and academic and social success has been because of the inclusive mindset and compassion Maybelle has received.
“Because of Maybelle, students at Nativity are learning lessons that are impossible to teach from a textbook. They know – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that all people are valued. They see that
people who seem very different at first may in fact be very much like themselves. They understand that some people have to work harder than others to learn – and perhaps that
encourages them to work a little harder too.”
We echo and honor Cindi’s closing words…they are the definition of the Dandy Award and it is our great JOY to honor such an incredible school and so many amazing educators, coaches, administrators and the parish priest, Father Kingsley.
“I am deeply, deeply grateful to the principal at Nativity, Patti Dukes, for having the courage to say yes to Maybelle when we knocked on her door. And to continue to support Maybelle through
thick and thin, leading the call for inclusion. Patti’s leadership has permeated the culture at Nativity, and consequently Maybelle is welcome in every nook and cranny of that community. I
am also grateful to Amber Knight, who provides ongoing support to Maybelle and to her teachers so that inclusion is possible. And of course I’m grateful to Maybelle’s teachers – Meg
Hoeft, Lauren Ravenel, and Karen LaMar – who have guided Maybelle daily on her journey. I am grateful to Maybelle’s coaches, JP Nelson and Thad Miller and of course, so grateful to Father Kingsley.
Rather than require that she have the ability before giving her access, all these team members have given Maybelle the opportunities she needs to develop her abilities. THANK YOU, thank you, thank you to the Knights!”

May 2019 Recipients

Mrs. Christy Gandara – 4th Grade Teacher – St. Catherine of Alexandria Catholic School – Riverside, California

Kristen Rodriguez is a busy mom of three children. Her youngest, Lily, has Down Syndrome and Kristen did not think it was possible to have her attend a Catholic school. One casual encounter with the 4th grade teacher at St. Catherine of Alexandria Catholic School in Riverside, California changed that forever.
“I was walking with Mrs. Christy Gandara,the school’s 4 th grade teacher, engaging in casual conversation, when we began discussing Lily and her future education. I told her that I would absolutely love for Lily to attend St. Catherine’s but I didn’t think it was possible.
She questioned: “Why can’t she come here?”
I didn’t know what to say. She stated “Lily is going to be in my 4 th grade class. She can go anywhere else for the other grades, but she will come here for my class.” I was always under the impression that Catholic schools weren’t able to
accommodate special needs students. Mrs. Gandara explained that in her class, even typical students range in their abilities to learn. She described how some students excel and perform above grade level and others struggle in various subjects. This conversation made me start to think and led me to investigate and research how this inclusion could be made possible. That is when I came across your organization.
It is now 2019 and Lily is currently in the transitional kindergarten program part-time at St. Catherine’s. We are working towards Lily attending Kindergarten full-time beginning this upcoming
school year.
I have seen the Dandy Award recipients through your website and always have felt that Mrs. Gandara deserves some sort of recognition. She has been our biggest advocate within the school. She has attended the last three IEPs with us (even though she will not be Lily’s teacher for another five years) and has motivated and convinced some of the other staff that it is possible for Lily to succeed at SCA. I feel that without Mrs. Gandara’s support, Lily would not be at St. Catherine’s today. Miss Orozco, Lily’s future Kindergarten teacher, and Mr. Landin, our principal, are very supportive of our goal for inclusion, but I believe that it was all because of the ripple effect Mrs. Gandara started.”
WOW! Attending three IEPs when the student is not even in your class…believing, encouraging, motivating and leading by example. For all of these reasons, Mrs. Christy Gandara was honored with our Dandy Award. THANK YOU Mrs. Gandara!!