LAFAYETTE -- It wasn’t just a solid showing for Livingston Parish at the annual “Yes I Can!” awards ceremony.
It was a clean sweep.
Local students ranging from elementary through high school took home all six awards that were presented during the Louisiana Council for Exceptional Children’s 2020 Super Conference awards ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 12.
Held inside the Blues Room of the Cajundome Convention Center in Lafayette, the ceremony recognized students, teachers, and professionals for their contributions, service, and accomplishments in the field of special education.
This year, all student winners in the categories of academics, arts, school/community activities, self-advocacy, technology, and transition came from Livingston Parish.
In addition, two Livingston Parish professionals were recognized for their work in the field of special education, while a former Livingston Parish student was named a scholarship recipient.
William Romero, a special needs Lafayette High senior who served as guest speaker, congratulated the students for their accomplishments, praising them for not allowing their disabilities to hold them back.
“Even though we’re not defined by our disability, we should be proud to be disabled and speak for others,” he said.
Romero’s remarks echoed that of LCEC President Ashlie Abercrombie Allardyce, who applauded the students for their “passion, persistence, and drive.”
“Today, we celebrate you,” she said.
The “Yes, I Can!” award is the highest prize given by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). Winners are nominated by teachers, principals, related service providers, friends, and parents.
The award-winning students were joined at the ceremony by their families, friends, teachers, and principals. Also attending were LPPS Special Education Director Eric Penalber and others from the Central Office, who look forward to the special ceremony each year.
They should — they’ve come plenty.
Penalber said LPPS Special Education Transition Coordinator April Morgan sends out reminders every year encouraging teachers and paraprofessionals to nominate students. Facilitators will also remind teachers when they visit schools, making sure the “Yes I Can!” awards are always on the mind of special education personnel.
It’s resulted in numerous awards over recent years — in fact, more than any other parish.
“We emphasize these awards to our students and teachers,” Penalber said before the ceremony. “They’re important to us and the school system.”
The Livingston Parish school system has become a mainstay at the “Yes I Can!” awards.
Three students were honored in both 2017 and 2018, while four students won awards in 2019. Two students — Albany Middle’s Gabriel “Blaze” Garland and Live Oak High’s Colin Schultz — were named international winners in their respective years.
This year’s winners from Livingston Parish were: Katy Altazan, South Fork Elementary, academics; Rocco Siracusa, Southside Junior High, arts; Joshua Duffy, Holden High, school/community activities; Camilla Rios, Seventh Ward Elementary, self-advocacy; Logan Ruckman, Walker High, transition; and Kayla Ordes, Live Oak High, technology.
All six students will be nominated by the Louisiana Council for Exceptional Children Chapter for the international “Yes I Can” competition this year.
The professional award-winners from Livingston Parish were: Tess Walters, Seventh Ward Elementary, Parent Advocate of the Year; and Michelle McClain, French Settlement High, Paraeducator of the Year.
In addition, Brice Larson, a Live Oak High graduate and current student at Southeastern Louisiana University, was named a scholarship recipient for his work with the special needs community.