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updated: 9/3/2014 4:15 PM

Wheeling High School goes 'Back 2 School' in style

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  • Erin DeLuga, Wheeling High School's associate principal of instruction, with her daughter Emma, 2.

      Erin DeLuga, Wheeling High School's associate principal of instruction, with her daughter Emma, 2.
    Courtesy of Erin DeLuga

  • Rebecca Canady, special education teacher at Wheeling High School, and her daughter, Grace.

      Rebecca Canady, special education teacher at Wheeling High School, and her daughter, Grace.
    Courtesy of Erin DeLuga

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent

A baggo tournament, sports and entertainment prizes, local bands and tours of the Wheeling Fire Department ladder trucks.

Wheeling High School is pulling out all the stops for Saturday's "Back 2 School Bash," but at its core are a pair of teachers and their young daughters with Down syndrome.

Wheeling High School's associate principal of instruction, Erin DeLuga, and special education teacher Rebecca Canady, each received an overwhelming response from Wheeling students and staff when their babies were born with Down syndrome.

Now, they are trying to pay it forward.

Saturday's event will raise money for Gigi's Playhouse, a national Down syndrome achievement organization in Hoffman Estates, and the Schaumburg-based support organization, Ups for DownS.

"I knew I wanted to plan some sort of fundraiser," says DeLuga, whose daughter, Emma, is now 2, "but I thought it would be a fun, little event on the soccer fields."

Estimates now range from between 700-800 people expected, DeLuga says, and even those numbers could be low, as students and faculty and staff from all of Northwest Suburban High School District 214 are supporting the event.

"This has morphed into a full-fledged, back-to-school event," DeLuga adds. "We've just had an incredible outpouring from everyone wanting to be involved."

Nancy Gianni, who founded Gigi's Playhouse in 2003, will open the bash. She is expected to speak about tolerance, as well as update everyone on the growth of Gigi's achievement centers -- the 17th one opens Saturday in Indianapolis -- and the launch of Gigi University, for adults.

"My universal message will be one of acceptance," Gianni said Tuesday. "In this world of selfies and hashtags it is important for us to get back to what is important -- serving others and accepting people as they are."

Later in the event, Garrett Anderson of Lake Zurich will address the crowd. He is a young adult with Down syndrome who drives, earned an associate degree in early childhood education in 2012 from Harper College and works part time at Bright Horizons near Deer Park, teaching sign language to children.

"I heard him speak at one of the fundraising dinners for Ups for DownS," DeLuga says. "He's such an inspiration and really demonstrates that the sky is the limit for these kids."

Canady, who taught at Wheeling for nine years and now works in District 214's transitional program for 18-21 year olds, sees Saturday's event as a celebration of families.

"In our district, we try to meet each student where they're at," Canady said. "We're trying to celebrate the power of awareness and diversity -- and the potential of all students to succeed."

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