Purple isn’t a rare color at Stoner Prairie Elementary – it’s the color of the school shirts, and the principal’s hair.
But on Friday, Oct. 18, fifth graders wore the color purple to celebrate one of their own.
Each year, the SPE graduating class of 2027, currently fifth graders, wears the color on a day near classmate Laurel Cooper’s birthday, to celebrate her and the addition she brings to the classroom.
Laurel has Rett Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that limits a person’s ability to speak, walk, eat and breathe. It’s diagnosed in less than 1 in 10,000 female infants, and occurs in boys at an even smaller rate.
For Laurel, it makes communication and movements difficult, her father Jason said, but mentally, “she’s all there.”
“Inside she’s an 11 year old that wants to do everything that everyone else is, but unfortunately her body presents some different challenges,” he said. “You can imagine how frustrating it would be if you weren’t able to say, ‘I’d like to pick this up,’ or ‘I would like to grab that and eat that.”
Laurel’s classmates and teachers have been celebrating Purple Day each year they’ve been in elementary school, as Laurel’s kindergarten teacher started the annual celebration.
Jason said it’s “amazing” watching the students all dress up in purple to celebrate his daughter each year.
He said he hopes the exposure to his daughter’s differences allows students to grow up as individuals who are inclusive to others who aren’t the same as them.
“The fact that the other students view Laurel as just another student is so different than when I went to school,” Jason said. “I think it’s building the foundation for when they get out into the junior high and high school, and the working environment, being able to support folks with different abilities.”
Having a school community that fosters inclusivity is important for principal Tammy Thompson Kapp, and celebrating Purple Day fits into that mindset. She said it matters to her that every child feels like they belong at the school.
“Every day, when we see her peers interacting with her … it just gives me hope that everyone will see individual for the assets that they bring and the things they do have,” Thompson said.