The program was organized by the Down Syndrome Association of Delaware which distributed more than 5,000 pairs of bright, colorful mismatched socks throughout the state at 45 participating schools to spark conversations about Down syndrome.

Students and staff in Appoquinimink schools showed off their silly socks today to help spark conversations about a serious topic.

The local schools joined in the statewide “Rock Your Socks” program as part of World Down Syndrome Day on March 21.

The program was organized by the Down Syndrome Association of Delaware which distributed more than 5,000 pairs of bright, colorful mismatched socks throughout the state. This week, students and teachers had the opportunity to buy a pair for $1, and then to wear them to school today to show their support for Down Syndrome awareness. Participants could also wear their own mismatched socks.

Karen Marsh, the past president of the association, said 45 Delaware schools are participating as part of World Down Syndrome Day. Celebrated on the 21st day of the third month of the year, the date is symbolic of the third copy of the 21st chromosome that characterizes Down syndrome.

Marsh said the event isn't a fundraiser. The $1 contribution just covered the cost of the socks, but those who staffed the tables where the socks were sold were able to offer information about Down syndrome. The whole purpose is to raise awareness.

"Schools have educated students and answered frequently asked questions about Down syndrome," said Marsh. "They have created friendly competitions and challenges to see who can wear the craziest socks, the most colorful socks, and the grade level that has the most participants wearing socks."

Marsh said the mismatched socks are a conversation starter which opens the door for a teachable moment which will lead to awareness and acceptance of everyone's differences.

While the final total isn't available, Marsh said schools in the Appoquinimink district sold nearly 1,000 pairs of socks.

"By wearing bright, colorful mismatched socks we are helping to promote awareness and celebrate all things wonderful about people with Down syndrome," said Marsh. "Through quality educational programs, good health care, and positive support from family, friends and the community, people with Down syndrome are able to develop their full potential and lead fulfilling lives."

At Silver Lake Elementary, the sock sales were led by MaryJo Gilligan, whose daughter, Amanda, has Down syndrome. Amanda is a fourth grader at the school.

MaryJo said she was amazed with the response to the program.

"I couldn't keep up with everyone who wanted to participate. I had to go out and buy more," she said. "I was a little emotional. This was a great way to promote awareness about Down syndrome. In the lunch room where we were selling the socks, I gave a talk about awareness and acceptance, and the students were able to talk freely and ask questions."

Her daughter said the program is "great."

What was her reaction when she saw everyone wearing crazy socks?

"I was grinning," said Amanda.

MaryJo said the program is a fun way to raise awareness.

"When someone says, 'Why are you wearing crazy socks?' Then you say, 'I'm supporting World Down Syndrome Day.' It gets people talking and it seems to work," she said.

At Appoquinimink High School, the National Honor Society organized sock sales during lunch to promote the program, and the school also publicized the project during morning announcements.

"We were supposed to be selling for three days, but we sold out of socks before the second day was over," said Honor Society President Zach Jones. "The support was overwhelming."

Honor Society member Chelsea Diez said the group wanted to join the effort because the program represents what the Honor Society stands for.

"We're supposed to be role models and treat everyone with respect and treat everyone equally," said Diez. "We all wanted to show our support for this project."

About the Down Syndrome Association of Delaware

Founded in 1979, the DSA of Delaware is a statewide non-profit support group, organized and managed by parents of people with Down syndrome. They aim to be a supportive resource, advocating for the acceptance and understanding that allows individuals with Down syndrome to achieve the same level of access and opportunity as their peers.