Casa Grande High School students chose their homecoming queen last week, 17-year-old senior Danielle Kainz.
Danielle has Down syndrome, but that does not, never has defined her, said her mother, Teri Kainz. Teri and her husband, Chuck, chose to mainstream Danielle, educating her in regular classes.
“This is what life is, being with all different types of people,” Teri Kainz said. “We wanted her to have that.”
The key, she continued, is not differentness, but that “we’re alike in so many ways.”
At Casa, teacher Lynne Moquete, said, “Every club nominates a person from their club, for example, band or choir. It’s really equitable. Danielle was nominated by Best Buddies, our program that matches special ed kids with regular ed kids.”
Although Moquete doesn’t know Danielle personally, she mentioned what she heard as ballots were being passed out. “Everyone was saying, ‘Vote for Danielle.’ Everyone wanted her to win.”
Danielle is one of four sisters. Cristi and Cathryn are older, Michelle is younger. She attended Sonoma Mountain School, then went on to Kenilworth and Casa Grande.
Sister Cathryn said Danielle “has been blessed with a great group of friends since kindergarten.
“My parents kept her as included as anybody. There’s never been the expectation her life is going to be different. Activities, hanging out with friends, she’s a typical teenage girl, 100 percent the same as everybody else, and that’s as it should be.”
Danielle loves to dance, especially hip-hop and jazz, belongs to a bowling league and participates in Challenger Baseball. She has been a member of the same Girl Scout troop since kindergarten.
Cathryn Kainz said her sister is “so much fun. She teaches us how we should be living. She sees good in everybody and believes everyone’s intentions are in the right place. It’s heartwarming to realize how special and kind her heart is.”
The nomination and election, said Cathryn Kainz, “reflects so well on the Casa student body. They see the importance of community, and of acceptance. She’s not an outsider. It’s so great to have this not be a popularity contest.
“I chaperoned the dance after the game, and the student body president had Danielle come out to the middle of the dance floor. Everyone was chanting her name. It was cool to see the unity and the love for her. When she got in the middle, her best friends danced with her.”
“It was such an honor for her to be nominated, among all the wonderful candidates,” Teri Kainz said.
“We had no idea she’d win. It just shows how many people love her. We were screaming, we were beside ourselves, and so happy for her.
“We cried happy tears all weekend. People are writing such wonderful things on Facebook. And when we settled down, she said to me, ‘Mommy, I’m a nice person.’
“I said, ‘Yes. You are! That’s why this happened.’
“Not only were other people proud of her, she was proud of herself.”
Danielle’s honor means a lot to all kids with special needs, Teri Kainz said. “When they’re born, you get all this negativity from people, and you want to hear positive things, that your kid can do wonderful things, she can be a part of a community.