This article appeared in the Florida Times-Union on January 17, 2020 by Gabrielle Parzygnat
Students, faculty and staff flooded the bleachers and seats of the DuBow Family Physical Education Complex in anticipation of Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony to start, while philanthropists and dignitaries sat on stage at the North Florida School of Special Education.
Three years ago the school announced a fundraising campaign for their expansion. It was less than a year ago when the official expansion got underway. It includes an urban equestrian therapeutic center, physical education complex, academic complex, basketball court, culinary complex and a fine arts center.
This expansion stretched the enrollment for the school, allowing new opportunities for more children and young adults. It will also allow more vocational skills to be taught.
“I think that the new culinary program is important and is among one of the many things this expansion brings that will teach the kids independence and skills they will need to succeed,” said Michele Achtemeier, whose daughter joins the elementary program.
Mayor Lenny Curry, who attended with wife Molly, led the students in their school song along with music teacher Ciaran Sontag. At the last ceremony, Curry remembered hearing the lyrics and said he could not help from singing along.
“Thank you everyone for making this happen,” Curry said. “Every city has its challenges and we strive for equal opportunity for all.”
Board president and parent John Macdonald expressed his gratitude for the donations.
“Shortly after launching our Angel of the Woods capital campaign, Delores Barr Weaver, who, having a special place in her heart for all children, was our trailblazing philanthropist giving the school its first million-dollar donation in history, naming the therapeutic equestrian center,” Macdonald said. “In addition, she gave a challenge grant of $500,000.”
The biggest expression of gratitude was given to Sally Hazelip, who started this with a vision over five years ago. All the students, faculty and parents gave Hazelip a round of applause as she stood before the crowd.
Board vice president and parent Bert Brown gave remarks about the future opportunities this brings for the students and community.
“With the addition of the gymnasium and therapeutic equestrian center, we have more opportunities for those of all abilities to come on campus through our reverse inclusion program,” Brown said.
“Reverse inclusion, for those of you who have not heard of the term before, is when we bring students that are of typical abilities to the campus to visit with our students and can join their peers with intellectual differences and share experiences of horse camp, playing basketball or other sporting events and so much more,” he said.
Brown called up students to help the donors and partners cut the long, blue ribbon that stretched across the stage. As the students cut, the crowd erupted into cheers and smiles, celebrating the historic achievement.
Following the ribbon-cutting, Hazelip came up to address the crowd. With tears in her eyes, she gave the final remarks to the ceremony.
She said her heart is full and she is so thankful for the countless number of people who have walked alongside her and the staff to help provide the best education and therapeutic programs possible for the students.
“I believe that the main purpose of ‘our children’ is to make better people of the rest of us,” Hazelip said. ”… Witnessing their genuine care, love and affection for one another and others is a testament of how we all should live our lives.”