Parent ShaTonda Edmonds calls her 19-year-son Jheilaun Roberts a miracle. Born at 23 weeks weighing one pound four ounces and only 12 inches long, he literally fit into the palm of her hand. Released after a 10-month hospital stay, Jheilaun and his mom went home to start a new life that his doctors warned would be filled with challenges.
“Jheilaun is on the Autism spectrum, and his doctors said he would definitely be intellectually delayed,” said Edmonds. Born with the serious eye disorder retinopathy, Jheilaun was at risk of losing his vision and hearing, and doctors predicted he would require numerous surgeries. Despite the looming hurdles, his mom was determined her son would defy the odds.
Today, Jheilaun is a thriving Special Olympics scholar athlete at South Oak Cliff High School. An A/B student since elementary, in middle school, Edmunds said he struggled in social situations and basically kept to himself. That all changed when he enrolled at SOC, where Edmunds says the teachers helped him grow beyond his disabilities.
“When I met his teachers at SOC, I knew this was the right place. They care about these kids like their own.” At SOC, she says Jheilaun came out of his shell and became a totally different kid.” Today, he’s a gold medal athlete, hangs out with other kids and gives his teachers and coaches fist bumps in the school hallways.
Jheilaun’s teacher and SOC Special Olympics Coach Getquiea Jones, is not surprised. She says these kinds of changes are common among her student athletes. “One of the main changes I see is in socialization. Through sports, our students gain the confidence to become socially acclimated to high school.” An impressive record of athletic awards and the changed attitudes of students are proof of the program’s success.
Principal Dr. W. F. Johnson says his staff works at building an environment of inclusion where all students feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, despite their challenges. “On a global perspective many of our students have challenges,” says Johnson. “Our job is to equip them, and support them to develop those skills necessary to be self-sufficient productive, contributing citizens. In this population in particular, not many will attend universities, but If they have the job skills, display emotional stability, and can cope, they are well on their way to being productive citizens earning their own income.”
Mom Edmonds says SOC’s winning team of caring Special Education teachers, Special Olympics and the school’s partnership with the Dallas ISD 18+ program has given her son’s life new purpose. Under the 18+ Program Jheilaun can continue at SOC until age 22. He’ll spend half days at SOC, and half days at the Multiple Careers Magnet Center working on career readiness skills. Already, Jheilaun has a passion for culinary arts. “He gets excited and comes home every day and tells me what he’s cooked,” his mom says. “He’s even put together his own cookbook with 51 recipes.
“Before coming to SOC, I was worried about what he would do after high school,” she said. “I thought I would have to put him in an adult day rehab center while I worked, but now I don’t have to worry about that. I’m sure that when he completes the training and internship, they will be able to find him a career in the food industry.”
Considering all Jheilaun’s progress in spite of hurdles, it appears he truly is a miracle in the making.