Having your child attend school far away is difficult for almost any parent, but making the decision to send your child to Heartspring can be even more emotionally grueling. Heartspring is a school for students with special needs, who have educational challenges, as well as behavioral challenges. Thomas’ parents, Donald and Amy, made this very difficult decision when they knew they had done all they could for their son, yet he still needed additional help.
Thomas came to Heartspring in 2009. His behaviors were keeping him from attending public school and he was falling behind in his academics. He had very little confidence, didn’t complete assigned work and usually refused to participate in group activities. Difficulty following directions and listening to adults would often lead to Thomas’ use of phrases like, “It is too hard,” or “I can’t do this.”
Additionally, Thomas’ impulsiveness and demonstrated behaviors sometimes led to dropping to the ground and refusing to move. He also repeatedly broke his eyeglasses. Token systems had backfired in the public school setting, because he would perseverate over what he was going to earn. He had difficulty with transitioning from one task or activity to another and even though he enjoyed going shopping, he always needed a separate reinforcer just to leave the store. While Thomas was capable of independently completing daily hygiene routines, he always needed verbal reminders to do so.
Now, Thomas is a different person. He works hard to meet many goals set by Heartspring and himself. He shows more confidence and genuinely cares about others. “Thomas has made huge strides socially. When greeting others he says more than just ‘hi’ and can maintain a conversation and understand the perspective of another person,” Megan Swett, school psychologist, said. Jennifer Daugherty, special education teacher, adds, “Thomas now also excels in demonstrating positive leadership in the classroom. He is eager to assist his peers, has a positive attitude, and is always ready to learn.”
Those discouraging “I can’t” statements he made upon arriving at Heartspring have disappeared, and now Thomas is eager to try new activities with a “can do” attitude. Jennifer says she feels very privileged to be Thomas’s teacher and has enjoyed witnessing Thomas’s growth throughout the years.
Heartspring’s multidisciplinary approach helps Thomas achieve his academic goals. In the classroom, Thomas works on Pre-Algebra, English, US Government and Environmental Science. “I am very proud of the grades I have earned this past semester,” Thomas said.
As another amazing step toward academic achievement, Thomas recently began attending a local public high school on a part-time basis. This allows him to practice the skills he learned at Heartspring, by interacting with his peers. “My goal for the next school year is to attend more classes at that school, and get a job off-campus,” Thomas said.
He’s already half way there. Thomas recently began an off-campus job at the Wichita Bar Association/Sedgwick County Law Library. John Santonil, employment training coordinator, was instrumental in finding this job, where Thomas and another student set up tables and chairs for law seminars.
Upon initially enrolling at Heartspring, an off-campus job may not have seemed possible. Workshop Coordinator Cheryl O’Brien agrees that Thomas has improved greatly since enrolling at Heartspring. He quickly met the goals set for him and recently learned how to meter the mail. “Thomas has worked on several community projects; putting together medical charts, sorting balloons, and assembling disaster food packages. He has learned to sit and work with other students, take directions and is very conscientious of the detail that is required for these jobs,” Cheryl said.
He also excels in music. “Thomas not only participates in music class, he also is in choir and is one of our outstanding soloists,” Verlene Warner, vocal music teacher, said. He attends concerts and musicals with the other students from Heartspring and has made great progress on how to conduct himself in the community.
Thomas also participates in Adaptive Physical Education at Heartspring. “When Thomas first came to Heartspring he already had some raw skills in several athletic areas and was extremely energetic when it came to PE and a variety of sports. He would sometimes become so competitive he was aggressive. Over the past few years, Thomas has learned to control his intensity and has achieved tremendous success not only in Heartspring’s APE program, but also in Heartspring as a whole,” Travis Grover, APE teacher, said.
Thomas currently participates in local and state competitions for Kansas Special Olympics in bowling, track and field, basketball, aquatics, golf, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. “During these events, Thomas still has a hunger to be great, but also has shown an extreme kindness to his fellow athletes in helping others that may not be as skilled as he is,” Travis added.
Thomas also helps Travis as an on-campus student assistant. He helps other students tie roller skates during skating events, roll bowling balls down a ramp during bowling and he also helps Travis set up the activities for that day’s APE class. “Thomas has become a remarkable young man during his time at Heartspring and to say I’m proud of him and his accomplishments would be an understatement,” Travis said.
Thomas has developed confidence in everything he attempts, as evidenced by his achievements on-campus and in the community. “I am confident that Thomas will continue to be able to achieve goals that he has set for himself, as he is very ambitious always striving to do his best,” Jennifer said.
Thomas’ parents have also seen this boost in confidence. They have watched him go from having no confidence to being very proud of his accomplishments. “He has not only grown physically, but also he has grown in maturity. He has worked very hard and we are very proud of him,” they shared. Thomas’ parents look forward to watching him meet every one of his goals, which is a reflection of supportive Heartspring staff, the hard work and dedication by Thomas, as well as the love and support his family has provided to him.