Looking Out for Others
Downing Fills Roles as Educator, Administrator, and Most Importantly, Innovator
"My bucket list is getting shorter," Downing says, with her characteristic grin. "It's kind of like I've really been fortunate I've been in the right place at the right time to do what I want to do."
There's much more outside UCM that defines this innovative teacher and program creator. Downing is a musician, a Sunday School teacher for adults with developmental disabilities at Blue Ridge United Methodist Church in Raytown, a board member at the Shepherd's Center of Raytown, and a board member off and on for the past 30 years with CrossCurrents - a Kansas City music and theater nonprofit organization. Downing also likes to make jewelry from the glass beads her husband, Michael Downing, produces.
"I've always been eclectic," she says. "I don't think I could have a job where I did the same thing day in and day out."
Splitting her professional life between teaching and what she calls "programming," Downing thrives on creating new programs, finding and satisfying existing needs. Teaching is satisfying, but she says there's something more fulfilling about creating new programs, such as the autism center and THRIVE, where she can see the programs function over time.
Splitting her professional life between teaching and what she calls "programming," Downing thrives on creating new programs, finding and satisfying existing needs.
"I split 50/50 between teaching and other things that have long-lasting impact on the quality of life of kids," Downing says. "I'm saving the world one child at a time."
She has music to thank for her career. After graduating from high school in Joplin in 1969, Downing attended the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. She studied both vocal and instrumental arts. Downing plays oboe, but she's also a guitarist and a member of Rosy's Bar & Grill, an all-female folk band founded in early 1977. The group celebrated its 30-year reunion in 2007 with a show in Kansas City and has three CDs.
Downing started her career teaching music in the Kansas City School District, where she stayed for seven years. Working with a tight budget, Downing says she helped supply her students with clarinet and saxophone reeds, violin strings and bridges and even made minor repairs herself.
As a public school teacher, Downing worked with all types of students, including those with special-needs and behavior issues. She felt a personal attachment to students with behavior disorders, saying her personality matched theirs. The key is you can't be surprised, offended or afraid, she says, and you must think fast on your feet.
Downing's colleague, Theresa Earles- Vollrath, UCM associate professor of special education, agrees. "You're a lot like them," she says. "You get it."