Every Child, Every School: This is part two in a four-part informational series about a special education millage being requested by the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District. Voters will be asked to decide whether to approve the millage request on May 6.
• March 15: MAISD begins campaign to raise awareness about upcoming special education millage vote.
• Today: Special Education: From early on to high school … one student’s story.
• March 29: A look at what special education programs and services are available in Montcalm County.
• April 5: Transition: Special education adults plan for life after school.
By Jim and Shannon Davis
Special to The Daily News
GREENVILLE — One of the worst things to hear as a parent is that your child has a disability.
That reality set in for us 13 years ago when a specialist diagnosed our then 2-year-old son Cory with autism.
We had no idea where to turn but we knew that we needed a plan, we needed help, we needed support and most of all we knew early intervention was going to be the key in getting Cory on the right track.
So many questions, so many frustrations, and so many fears consumed our lives for months after the diagnosis. We were ultimately referred to the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District (MAISD) by Jamee Gunn, a local speech therapist.
After several home visits and evaluations, Cory began participating in a program called Little People Land, which is a pre-school for kids with special needs. This program gave Cory the chance to participate in a school setting that he could be successful in. It was hard on Cory at first, but he came out of that program learning skills that we could not begin to tackle on our own at home — skills that come easy to most toddlers like saying “mom” or “dad,” asking for certain foods and using the bathroom.
The impact of this program was immediate and Cory’s behaviors were noticeably improving. Cory was learning, he was changing, and most of all the MAISD was able to provide us with the tools to help Cory learn, grow, and be successful at home. They also introduced us to the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) which was able to open up a whole new world for Cory as this allowed him to understand language and communicate with us through the use of pictures. This helped us to understand that Cory could learn and communicate using visual prompts and we still use portions of this method of communication with Cory on a daily basis to this day.
Cory has participated in a number of different classrooms and programs during his years at MAISD. He also attended classes at Cedar Crest Elementary School and Walnut Hills Elementary School and was able to participate in gym class and eat lunch at Greenville Middle School. Most of his class time recently has taken place at the William J. Seiter Educational Center in Greenville. This facility is an awesome place of learning for children with disabilities.
The dedicated and caring people we have had the pleasure to meet and work with the past 13 years in the MAISD and the Greenville Public School system are too numerous to name.
All the teachers, aides, therapists and administrators that have worked so hard creating a plan and environment for Cory to be successful in is truly amazing.
From our initial home visits with Holly Cook, Sandy Garderner, Dave Tiesworth and Michele Ludtke to his first teacher Kelly Taylor and his current teacher Monica Dukes to his first occupational therapist Joanne Anderson to his current occupational therapist Paula Dwyer, we have been truly blessed.
We were also very lucky to have been given the opportunity to have Annegret Paas and Michell Curtis work with our son for several years. Annegret truly went out of her way to make sure Cory succeeded and learned, sometimes at her own costs. Michell entered Cory’s world in Annegret’s class and has been Cory’s aide for several years now. Both Annegret and Michell never gave up creating new ideas and new ways to push Cory to become the best he could be.
Those of you who know Cory’s story understand how important the MAISD and the services they provide have been to our family. When we look back at a child who couldn’t speak or tell us his basic needs, struggled in public, couldn’t read or write, couldn’t handle his emotions and lacked basic life skills, we are happy to be able to say that Cory has learned, surpassed and overcome most of his obstacles. While he is still learning some of life’s basic needs, he continues to amaze us every day.
This is Cory’s story and there so many other children in our community with similar stories of triumph and success thanks to the services provided by the MAISD and special education programs in our public schools.
We can’t even imagine where we would be today if our community did not join us in offering these services for Cory.
We need to show Cory and all of the students with special needs we care and they need to know they matter too. This is a millage for all of our children, whether they are in special education or general education.
We ask for your continued support by voting “yes” for the Montcalm County special education millage on May 6.
PROJECT FIND: Don’t worry. But don’t wait. If you think your infant or toddler may have a developmental delay, contact Early On at 1-800-Early-On or complete the referral form at projectfindmichigan.org online. In Michigan, education begins at birth. Some of our children need extra help or other related special services along the way. That’s why Michigan’s special education system helps children as young as newborns and up to age 26. Project Find provides information about special education programs and services and helps to arrange free evaluations to find out if a child is eligible for extra help from any of Michigan’s public schools. If a child you know is struggling in school or has a physical, emotional or communication problem that might prevent success in school, call Project Find. Contact your school’s principal or call local Project Find Coordinators Marty Combs at (616) 225-4712 or Sue Clements at (616) 225-4760.