Miracles Abound at Preschool; DLC Nurse & Learn Serves Children with Special Needs

By Cravey, Beth Reese | The Florida Times Union, May 30, 2016 | Go to article overview

Miracles Abound at Preschool; DLC Nurse & Learn Serves Children with Special Needs


Cravey, Beth Reese, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Beth Reese Cravey

When Andrew Etheredge was born about four years ago with multiple health problems, doctors told his parents he would likely never talk, walk, feed himself or even sit up.

But Tracie and Michael Etheredge decided to let Andrew determine his capabilities, not his doctors.

At his prekindergarten graduation Thursday, he not only talked, walked and sat up, but jumped, danced and ran. At a reception after the ceremony, he fed himself plenty of potato chips from his father's plate.

Next step, kindergarten.

"He is amazing, infectious, joyous," said Tracie Etheredge. "He is so smart."

Andrew was one of 16 students to receive pre-kindergarten or voluntary pre-kindergarten diplomas at DLC Nurse & Learn, a Jacksonville child care and preschool for students with and without developmental delays. Many of its students have disabilities, ranging from Down syndrome and cerebral palsy to seizure disorders and severe diabetes.

Executive Director Amy Buggle founded the nonprofit 27 years ago. As a teacher at Jacksonville's Mount Herman Exceptional Student Center, she had tried to help her students' parents find accessible community services for their children, but at the time the Jacksonville area had no child-care center equipped and staffed to serve special-needs children.

Now every year at pre-kindergarten graduation she marvels at the progress made by children who are overcoming disabilities.

"It just never ceases to amaze me. I've seen miracles happen for 27 years," she said. "Children whose parents were told they may not live - and if they do live they will not progress ... you never give up on them, you just keep building."

To see them achieve pre-kindergarten graduation, she said, "is all worth it."

Etheredge said she was "devastated" about Andrew's condition at birth after having had four healthy daughters. He has lymphangioma, which is malformations of the lymphatic system, and cortical dysplasia, a congenital abnormality in the brain's development. He also had seizures.

"He had a lot of challenges," said her husband, Michael Etheredge. "We thought, 'What can we do here?'"

When Andrew was a year old they enrolled him at DLC, where students with and without developmental delays learn at their own pace. Teachers focus on cognitive and motor skills, speech and language and helping students learn daily living skills to be more independent, according to the DLC website.

'KIDS ARE SPONGES'

Andrew thrived, his mother said, and is now even learning sign language.

"Kids are sponges," she said. "They have done amazing work with him."

Michael Etheredge said they look forward to watching Andrew's continuing progress as he enters the public school system.

"No telling what he will do," he said.

Raven Wilson, 5, is one of the DLC pre-kindergarten graduates who has no developmental delays. Her parents picked DLC because it was close to home and had "great reviews," mother Vanizia Wilson said. …

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