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Andrew Greenhaw: Sam was a challenge. There was plenty of help

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It was on a trip to visit family that we first noticed something was different about our 3-year-old, Sam. We ’d been excited for him to play with his younger cousin Miles, but when we arrived, Miles played with our older daughter Ruth and Sam was left behind. Sam’s speech was significantly behind Miles’ and he wasn’t socialy able to interact with him in the way that Miles could with Ruth. Things we’d thought of as Sam’s eccentricities were becoming visible as real challenges that he was facing.

When we returned to Rochester we scheduled Sam’s 3-year-old screening with Rochester Public Schools. I accompanied him to a room where an educational professional sat on one side of a small table with a box of blocks and welcomed Sam to sit in the chair on the other side of the table.

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I knew immediately that Sam was not going to meet the expectations of the nice woman sitting at the table. She was expecting him to sit quietly, to listen to her instructions, and to play with the blocks as she asked. Sam was not going to do any of these things. He ran to the table, pushed the chair out of his way and began reaching for the blocks.

As the educational professional gave him instructions on what to do with the blocks he looked at her inquisitively, laughed hysterically, and left the table to run laps around the room. After chasing him down and carrying him back to the table several times, the woman and I agreed that he’d done about all of the screening he was going to do that day.

On that first day Sam was flagged as having possible deficits in speech and behavioral development. Our next step was to collect more information to create an Individualized Education Plan for him.

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My wife and I filled out long questionnaires about Sam’s behaviors and abilities and later had the chance to review the questionairre that his daycare provider, Ms. Lee Vang, had filled out. Sam had attended an in home daycare run by Lee Vang for about a year and a half at that point.

Reviewing Ms. Lee’s responses to the long list of questions about Sam’s abilities and behavior’s two things became clear. First, Sam’s behavioral issues were quite real and quite disruptive. Although she had never whispered a word of complaint to us, it was clear that Sam was a challenging student to have in daycare.

The second thing it revealed was that Ms. Lee loved Sam. After four pages of questions detailing all the things that Sam could not yet do, there were a few lines available for Ms. Lee to put in any other comments she had about Sam. There she wrote, “Sam is a very creative and artistic child. He works thoughtfully and patiently on his art projects and he loves the outdoors. Sam is friendly and brilliant!”

Ms. Lee didn’t just know Sam, she loved him. She couldn’t fill out a report all about his challenges without also applauding his gifts. Reading those comments brought tears to my eyes. It also cemented my belief that I would lay down in traffic for Ms. Lee Vang.

After several weeks, we had a Zoom meeting to review Sam’s Individualized Educational Plan. It was incredible. The IEP accurately described Sam’s challenges and gave specific intervention strategies and benchmarks for measuring success. We were impressed.

We were further impressed when we heard that Sam would be in a class with only four other students, his teacher, two paraprofessionals, and a speech therapist. All the students were working on similar communication and socialization issues. This struck us as nearly too good to be true. But then they told us it was free of charge and that transportation would be provided! Sam could continue at Ms. Lee’s for a half day, have a bus pick him up there, take him to school, and then bring him back to our house afterwards.

This plan, these teachers, these resources, these were all a Godsend for us. We desperately wanted to help Sam, but we needed help. And here was the help. Ms. Lee, the professionals that conducted the screening, his amazing teacher, his speech therapist, the para-professionals, the bus-drivers, all these people were working hard so that Sam could get the help he needs. So that he could thrive.

We are overwhelmed with gratitude for this community and the help they are providing us. My prayer is that we will remain truly grateful and that we will devote ourselves to making sure that every child in our community gets the kind of support that Sam has received.

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Rev. Andrew Greenhaw is Co Pastor of The Congregational Church United Church of Christ alongside his wife, Rev. Shannon Smith. He is the proud father of Ruth and Sam, ages 5 and 3.

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