Seven-year-old Ellie Ochalek loves school, Girl Scouts, and waves and sandcastles at the beach. She just finished first grade at Folger McKinsey Elementary School and is an avid reader who did well on all of her spelling tests this year. Ellie likes practicing “fast math” on the iPads at school and enjoys weekly visits to Folger’s media center to check out books — among her favorites, “Pinkalicious,” the “Amelia Bedelia” series and “Isadora” books. “I like school because it’s really cool, and it rocks,” Ellie explained.
Recently, Ellie received national and local attention for a video in which she talked about her qualities as a young girl with Down syndrome. The short video was featured on social media accounts for “Good Morning America” and People Magazine. Ellie’s mom, Lauren, made the recording one morning at breakfast and posted it to her Instagram account, thinking it would be appreciated by family and friends. She used her iPhone to film Ellie talking about the fact that she has an extra 21st chromosome and how this makes her “powerful,” kind, extra loving, and filled with “gratitude.” The video ends with Lauren stating, “I’m very thankful that you have Down syndrome. I love your extra 21st chromosome.”
A friend at ABC News saw the video and sent it to “Good Morning America.” Within weeks, the video was shared by People, and Baltimore television station WMAR, an ABC affiliate, visited Ellie’s classroom to meet the first-grader and interview her friends. The piece, “Ellie the Enchanted,” aired on local news.
Ellie is an enthusiastic student. At an early age, she learned sign language and began talking, and before age 2, she was reading sight words. After preschool, she attended prekindergarten at Oak Hill Elementary School, before heading to Folger McKinsey on the school bus for kindergarten.
“She’s always done well academically,” Lauren said. “She loves to learn, and she’s a really hard worker. She loves the positive feedback she gets when she blows through an outdated stereotype.”
Ellie has lots of friends at school. “The inclusion piece is so important,” Lauren said, noting that everyone benefits. Ellie fits in well, making lots of friends and opening minds to possibilities. Fittingly, Folger runs a positivity project, encouraging students to recognize that “other people matter.”
“She keeps up because she wants to keep up,” Lauren said of her daughter’s classroom experience.
Outside school, Ellie participates in Girl Scouts and ballet and tap classes. She loves to play with her younger brother and sister. A highlight of her year was the daddy-daughter dance she attended with her dad, Aaron. She donned a purple dress to show off her favorite color.
This summer, Ellie has joined Anne Arundel County Public Library’s summer reading program, and she will maintain her academic skills with tutoring sessions up to three times a week. Over the school break, she is looking forward to hopping in the family hot tub, visiting the pool, and traveling to California for a family coastal road trip.