Julie Harmon knows that acrimony often fills the air between parents of children with down syndrome and the schools.

Parents want what is best for their children, she said, and school budgets can only do so much.

But she also knows that small acts of goodwill can make a difference.

This week, 12 families walked into schools across southern Colorado and handed awards to teachers who worked as advocates on behalf of their children. Each family gave a teacher a certificate and $500 from the Colorado Springs Down Syndrome Association, which organized the effort.

"This was a way to say it isn't us versus them," said Harmon, the association's treasurer. "We all really are trying to make a difference for kids with down syndrome in our communities and in our schools."

The awards marked the first time that the association bestowed the honors, which were a nod to National Teacher Appreciation Week.

On Thursday, Harmon's son gave one of the awards to MaryAnn Weitzel, a teacher at Doherty High School who helped him graduate in 2010.

Nick Harmon, 22, now audits classes (attending, but not for credit) at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, while helping to teach a course on special education, she said.

His successes can be traced back to his time with Weitzel, she said.

"That really is what kind of turned the tide for my son's high school education - to become really inclusive and have the opportunities that everyone has in high school," Harmon said.