Blessed Sacrament students learn – about life, love

Elizabeth Stewart was beloved by the entire school body at Blessed Sacrament School in Wichita. (Courtesy photo)

Most students aren’t sure what they want to major in after they graduate from high school. Alison Moore knew exactly what she wanted to do. And 28 years later she is still fulfilling those plans.
Moore volunteered for a week-long ARC camp (now known as Ability Point) while fulfilling her senior service hours at Kapaun Mt. Carmel High School.
“I remember going the first day and coming home in tears thinking I cannot do this. I’d never been around people with special needs. I didn’t know what to do and I was terrified.”

Overcoming difficulties

She was a 17-year-old working with people with a variety of special needs, most of whom were older than she was.

“They couldn’t wipe their mouths. I had to do it. I told mom, I can’t do it. By the end of the week, it was…holy cow! I know what I’m going to do. I want to work with special needs students.”

After high school, she worked for Rainbows United while attending Wichita State University. In 2003 she graduated with an elementary education degree with an Early Childhood endorsement. Moore taught preschool for a decade at St. Jude School in Wichita. About five years into her teaching career the principal, Dan Dester, suggested she go back for a master’s degree in administration.

Plans changed

She took his advice – almost. Three years later she was about to receive a master’s degree in special education from Wichita State University when the Holy Spirit stepped in to redirect her plans.

About a week before she was to graduate, one of Moore’s daughters forgot to take her lunch with her to Blessed Sacrament School.
“I was walking in the crosswalk when Mr. Dester saw me and asked, ‘Ali, have you graduated?’ I said next week,” He said: “I have a job for you!”

They talked about the school’s Learning Strategies Program but Dester had a vision of Blessed Sacrament moving forward in the area of special education.

“So I went to St. Jude – they let me out of my contract and started working here,” she said.
(Dester is now the principal of Trinity Catholic High School in Hutchinson.)

Back at Blessed Sacrament

So, Moore was back at Blessed Sacrament, the school she attended Kindergarten through eighth grade, but as a teacher.

She said it took her two years of working in Blessed Sacrament’s Learning Strategies Room to figure out the variety of techniques and accommodations put in place to address the specific needs of each student. “All students learn differently and the challenge is to figure out what is going to work for students to make them the most successful in the classroom.”

In 2005 Blessed Sacrament applied for and received a grant through the Holy Family Special Needs Foundation. The grant allowed them to increase Moore’s hours to full-time and hire a para to serve Blessed Sacrament students with more significant needs.

Moore now works in the school’s Holy Family Room with students with special needs through the Holy Family Special Needs Foundation. The endorsement specifies that she has specific skills in a specific subject area.

Elizabeth Stewart loved by all

One of the students Alison Moore mentored was Elizabeth Stewart, a second grader born with a rare neuromuscular disease called spinal muscular atrophy.

“She was the coolest kid I ever worked with,” Moore said. “She was an old soul. She was funny and sarcastic. If you were to interview the entire school they would all say how much they loved her. She had the best attitude. She loved coming to school.”

Elizabeth, who attended Blessed Sacrament School in preschool, couldn’t return during her kindergarten year – when the Covid epidemic was at its worst – because she was medically fragile. Her mother, Annie Stewart, homeschooled Elizabeth but when her first-grade year rolled around, Elizabeth was eager to get back to burning rubber in the halls of Blessed Sacrament.

“She was upbeat, positive, and fantastic,” Moore said. “It was a learning experience for the other kids because they had never had anybody in their classroom who used a wheelchair. They learned quickly to move out of the way – she could maneuver that wheelchair like a champ.”

Mother assisted her

Annie assisted Elizabeth throughout the school day. Moore added that the school made adjustments wherever and whenever needed to help Elizabeth thrive, including physical education and at dance parties.

“Every day, I thanked God for placing Elizabeth and Annie in our school we are all better people for knowing them,” she said.
To the shock of all who loved her, Elizabeth passed away on Feb. 4.

“It was unexpected…nobody was prepared for it. She had been sick but no one expected that.”
Blessed Sacrament students took part in a Mass celebrated for Elizabeth to help them process her death and make the transition to a school without her.

But the students had also embraced Elizabeth’s mother who had become a significant figure in the school.

She’s back

“When Elizabeth passed away the kids said they loved Mrs. Stewart and asked if she was coming back,” Moore said.

Annie taught third grade before becoming a full-time caregiver for Elizabeth. In the fall she will again be joining the Blessed Sacrament staff as a second grade teacher.

“God works in mysterious ways!” Moore said.

Annie said the school community helped Elizabeth know confidence as a young girl with disabilities. “School was a place to have fun with her shining personality, socialize, engage with lessons, and come into her own faith,” she said, adding: “Elizabeth will forever be a part of who I am.”

Annie said she was in awe of the opportunity to continue giving back to Blessed Sacrament School the way Elizabeth did. “It feels so right!”