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Draper Journal

After being granted a wish, caring young woman seeks to help teachers

Nov 01, 2022 07:33PM ● By Shaun Deliskave

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

A young woman born with a rare genetic condition graduated from high school with the help of special education teachers, and now she has decided to pay it forward. Julia “Jules” Reardon, with the help of Make-A-Wish Utah, provided Special Education Classroom Kits to educators on Sept. 26 at the Wishing Place in Murray. The kits are designed to help students like her feel confident in their ability to earn high school diplomas.

Reardon’s condition is called Hemimegalencephaly, which causes intractable seizures. She has had to endure several brain surgeries and takes medication to get her seizures under control. In addition to this, she is also nonverbal and has cerebral palsy. Despite all this, she graduated from Mountain Heights Academy last May, with a 4.0 GPA.

“I wanted to pay it forward because of a few great teachers who had helped me when everyone else, except my parents, was convinced I had no abilities. These teachers realized there was someone smart inside my severely disabled body. And once they found ways that allowed me to show what I knew, the sky has been the limit ever since. My experience inspired me to create this project to help other students do the same,” Reardon wrote.

Reardon just found out that she has been accepted to the University of Utah for spring 2023 semester, where she hopes to study writing and become an author someday.

Make-A-Wish, which helps children with critical illnesses, provides “wishes” that give kids the hope and strength they need to fight harder. Reardon wishes to help 22 low-income special education classrooms by providing a Special Education Classroom Kit, which includes tools that enabled her to succeed in school.

Reardon wrote, “Originally, I wanted to get or upgrade sound systems in special education classrooms so students could hear the teacher better. When I was in class, between the rustling of papers, conversations around me, and all sorts of ambient noise, I had difficulty understanding what the teacher was saying—this made learning extremely difficult. Even when it was quiet in the room, some teachers spoke so softly that it was hard to hear them. However, this project was infeasible, so I needed to think differently about how I could help, and that is when I came up with the care kits for Special Education classrooms.

“These kits include items that address sensory processing issues, self-regulation, time management, fine/gross motor skills, anxiety, and socialization, plus some basic supplies for classes with few resources. There are even programmable buttons to allow nonverbal students to participate in class. Teachers can use these tools to help even their most involved students improve. Anything that enables the student to see even the smallest success is so significant. By turning a ‘no’ into a ‘yes,’ and then another ‘yes,’ and so on, these students can accomplish things even they did know they could achieve.”

Not only did finding specialized equipment prove challenging, but so did locating the right places to provide them.

Reardon wrote, “One of the difficulties was figuring out what to put in the kits that would do the most good. I knew the Skullcandy headphones were the project’s linchpin, but what other items to include would help the most students was challenging. However, it turned out that finding the schools that would benefit from receiving these kits was the hardest part.

“My focus was finding Title 1 schools that had accommodated or extended core classrooms where the students had interaction with their non-disabled peers. It was hard finding the right person in the districts who could help. There was a point when I was ready to give up. However, once we (mom helped) started contacting teachers directly, plus a shoutout on a couple of Utah Special Needs Facebook pages, we got recommendations for classrooms and schools that needed help. From here, we got a huge list that we started calling until we found our 22 classrooms.”

Each kit includes noise-canceling headphones, noise-reducing earmuffs, handwriting grips and writing aids, timers, programable buttons, fidget toys, and a tote for students to reuse. Additionally, each kit will include the following note and explanation from Reardon:

“I am so excited to be sharing these kits with you. I hope you find something here that changes a ‘no’ to a ‘yes’ with at least one of your students. As I am a person with severe disabilities like your students, I know that teaching us can many times be daunting and frustrating. But, like your students, we understand that it is because the path to reach us is sometimes so unclear. Please know that we see you trying, and we are so grateful that you refuse to give up on students like me. Because of a teacher that refused to give up on me, even though I gave her every reason to, I started believing in myself. And with the help of my parents, teachers, and every person who saw in me what I did not at the time, I succeeded.

“Last May, I graduated high school, not just with a certificate of attendance but an actual, high-honors, mainstream diploma. I know my future has power and purpose, and that is why I put everything that helped me in a classroom setting in these kits. I wish I had unlimited funds to give you all the tech you might need, but these were the things that have been invaluable to me over the years, and I hope it helps you too. I hope you always remember that I believe in all of you.”

Reardon felt the project was a huge hit and loved seeing the teachers feel seen and appreciated as they received her kits. She hopes to continue providing help for special education teachers and feels grateful for all those involved with her project.

“I don’t think any of us realized how involved and complicated my wish was. I sure didn’t. But everyone there, especially Tiffany Bloomquist, one of my wish granters, never let on, and for that, I am genuinely thankful. Before this, I never really understood how amazing MAKE-A- WISH was. They figure out how to create a one-of-a-kind experience for each Make-A-Wish child that touches our hearts in such a permanent way, which is incredible,” Reardon wrote.