Learning partners: Graduating Leechburg senior, her aide mark the end of a 12-year relationship

May 28, 2018 GMT

William Shakespeare had it right.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Jasmine McCracken, a senior at Leechburg Area High School, is set to graduate May 31 — and say farewell to her primary educator of 12 years.

McCracken and Leechburg paraprofessional aide Angela Vigna have worked together since the first grade.

McCracken, who has Down syndrome, has exceeded academic expectations, says Vigna, and studies a mainstream curriculum.

“Jasmine has opened my eyes to a whole new world,” Vigna says. “In the 12 years that I have worked with her, there were many lessons that the two of us shared that aren’t found in a textbook. It was a whole new experience for me to work with a child with Down syndrome. Jasmine is a high functioning student that has always pushed herself to do what every child her age was doing.”

Like the time in first grade when the youngster routinely skipped recess outside with her classmates to practice her sight words.

“Jasmine was determined to learn to read, and by December of first grade she was a reader,” Vigna says.

Traditions shared by the two include donning crazy socks annually on March 21 to recognize Down Syndrome Awareness Day, a campaign dubbed “Rock Your Socks Like You Rock Your Extra Chromosome.”

A senior year highlight for McCracken was being voted the Leechburg 2017 Homecoming Queen by her peers. She is still talking about it, says Vigna.

“That was my favorite high school moment,” says McCracken, known to sing Whitney Houston songs, dance, read and watch movies during her down time from school.

“I find Jasmine to be amazing. She is kind, funny and just everyone loves to be around her. She brings joy everywhere she goes,” says Devonte Commodore, a senior at Leechburg and McCracken’s escort for the prom.

Jasmine’s mother, Liz McCracken, is especially grateful for Vigna’s dedication to her daughter.

“Angela has taught my child an incredible amount of life lessons in their 12 years together. She has been such a great influence on Jasmine with her patience, listening ear, guiding ways and respect for others. She is one in a million and I’m honored to have her in Jasmine’s life,” Liz McCracken says.

Jasmine McCracken is excited about her upcoming graduation party at her grandparents’ house. “It’s going to be fun,” she says.

She doesn’t hesitate when asked what she likes about her longtime aide. “She’s really funny and really smart and she is really fun to work with, and I am going to miss her,” McCracken says.

McCracken hopes to attend Saint Vincent College, enrolling in the Bearcat B.E.S.T. (Building Excellence Through Skills Training) program for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.