CPS teachers, staff throw surprise quinceanera for student with special needs

Friday, December 16, 2022
A special needs high schooler and her mother got a surprise neither expected Friday when teachers and staff threw Joanna Ico a surprise quinceañera for the girl who turns 15-year-old on Monday.

"This is very special for me and her too," said Joanna's mother, Juane Ico.

It happened at Taft High School on the city's Northwest Side where Joanna, affectionately known as "Jojo," is enrolled in a Chicago Public Schools special needs program.

The teen is non-verbal, suffers from autism and is prone to seizures.

"She's amazing. Jojo is -- She's the light of this classroom," said Africa Murphy, a Special Ed classroom assistant.

The teen's teacher got the idea for the surprise quinceañera after her mother mentioned during a meeting at school that she looked forward to celebrating her daughter's birthday, but didn't have the money to buy a dress or anything else.

A quinceañera is the Hispanic tradition of celebrating a young girl's coming of age on her 15th birthday.

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The family recently immigrated to Chicago from Belize.

"If I'm going to talk about this, I would rather actions follow it," said Joanna's teacher, Grazyna Zmyslowski.

The classroom community came together. Fellow classroom assistant Carlos Flores had his wife found a dress in the teen's favorite color pink.

"I had to help and then she's Hispanic too. I just had to help," Flores said.

After the staff tricked Jojo's mom into coming up to the school for class activity, the surprise was complete.

Those there said this unforgettable kid is the real gift to this community.
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