A first for Alonzo, the Cape

2017-01-24 10:03
Alonzo Jonkerman (5) gets settled in on his first day of school.

Alonzo Jonkerman (5) gets settled in on his first day of school. (Samantha Lee)

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With their firstborn starting his first day of school and being the first Down’s Syndrome child to start mainstream public school in the province, it was a day of many firsts for the Jonkerman family.

Alonzo Jonkerman is five years old and started Grade R at AZ Berman Primary School yesterday (Monday).

With much excitement his parents, Melissa and Alfonzo, walked their son to his class. With no tears or protests he happily greeted his teacher and new classmates.

Alfonzo says they are happy the day has arrived.

“The process took a long time. It is a very big process to get a Down’s Syndrome child into a mainstream school because you have to go through the teachers, the governing body, the principal and the parents and all of them have to say yes. If one says no the entire process stops,” he says.

The process took about six months, he says.

The school psychologist started the process with an evaluation of Alonzo.

Alfonzo says they asked him if he wanted to send his son to a special needs school. But because he believes his son is on par with other children his age, they are determined to send him to a mainstream school.

“He was being mainstreamed at the daycare where he was and he was doing well,” he says.

His hope was to have Alonzo interacting with other able-bodied children his age.

Alonzo is described as a lovable and caring child, always going up to people and hugging and kissing them.

“Able-bodied people can learn a lot from people with Down’s Syndrome. They are very loving and they forgive easily. For us and his siblings – they pick up things from him,” says Alfonzo.

“He is also a ladies’ man,” says Melissa.

Alfonzo says it was not always smooth sailing.

“When he was born we were dumbstruck and did not know what to do, but on the day he was born our bishop, Bernie Lutuli, visited us and told Melissa to ‘take the blanket off that child, you don’t need to be shy. Let the world see him.’ That was so powerful because we wanted to hide and protect him. We did not want anyone to know,” says Alfonzo.

“Lots of people still believe [many negative] things about it but he made it very clear to us that this was a gift from God. He said to us: ‘God gives special children to special parents.’ And that made us strong.”

Alfonzo says the most important things “special children” need are love and attention.

“Don’t hide your child, you must protect your child but take your child and expose him to a normal life and give him lots of love,” he says.

Alonzo has also paved the way for others like him, both at the school and Smiling Faces educare that he attended. Both facilities have already accepted another child with Down’s Syndrome since.

“We just want him to live a normal life and go onto becoming something and earning his own salary. We will always be there for him but we don’t want to see him in an institution, he can live a full life,” says Melissa.

Alfonzo agrees.

“There are many things they will not be able to do but we want him to be able to do things on his own. I want him to matriculate and be educated and know right from wrong.”

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