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Special educators help special-needs student
Parent praises efforts in improving daughters eating
school board
Alea Cox, 9, a student at Richmond Hill Elementary School, is flanked by her educational team of school Principal Walt Barnes and teachers Shelena Bentley, Delven Mearis and Judy Lindsay. - photo by Steve Scholar

Pureed broccoli may not be everyone’s idea of an ingredient for a gourmet meal, but for one Bryan County student, it is a culinary delight.

Kristi Cox told the Bryan County School Board at its meeting Dec. 17 that the phenomenal progress her 9-year old daughter, Alea, has made recently would never show up on a written report.

Alea is a special-needs student in Delven Mearis's class at Richmond Hill Elementary School. She was born with Down syndrome and, up until recently, exclusively used a feeding tube for nourishment.

That changed when her educational team came up with a plan to expand her food offerings.

"Thanks to her educational team at RHES, Alea is eating regular food for the first time in her life. Up until the end of November, she had been eating (seven to nine) cans of PediaSure daily through her feeding tube. Now she is eating the same food the other kids do," Cox said after the meeting.

RHES Principal Walt Barnes said the school uses a collaborative effort when addressing the needs of its students.

"We really try to cultivate an atmosphere where kids are loved and nurtured," he said. "I noticed her lunch box, and it had PediaSure in it. I asked Alea about eating in the cafeteria, and she was excited. I got a note from home about pureeing her food. I told Alea the first day she was going to eat chicken. Now all her meals are pureed.”

“Her favorite is broccoli and corn," Mearis said with a smile.

Mearis and Cox both credit the lunch staff with going the extra mile to make a special lunch for Alea.

"She eats her lunch now in bowls," she said.

"She feeds herself now. She is proud of herself," said Judy Lindsay, another member of the educational team.

"Each child learns differently. Alea is a visual learner and moves at her own pace. This helps her become more independent," said Shelena Bentley, another of Alea's teachers.

Cox told the school board that her daughter is lucky to have dedicated professionals tending to her educational, social and emotional needs.

"You need to know that you have good people working for the school system. My daughter is so much more than a spreadsheet. The progress Alea is making is really huge. It could mean that one day, she might be able to have the feeding tube removed," Cox said.

Board Chairman Eddie Warren acknowledged that the school system and parents in Bryan County were fortunate to have professionals on staff and teaching their children.

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