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Sandy Journal

Eleven Students Honored At Jordan Valley Commencement

Jun 26, 2015 11:03AM ● By Julie Slama

Matt Kingston, who received his certificate of completion from Jordan Valley on Friday, May 29, gestures at friends and family who attended the school’s commencement exercises. Photo courtesy of Canyons School District

The commencement procession showcased 11 Jordan Valley students, all escorted by family members, teachers or friends. Some walked, some were in wheelchairs; all were beaming and had smiles on their faces.

Canyons Board of Education member Steve Wrigley presents Chloe McKeever with her diploma on May 29 during Jordan Valley’s graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy of Canyons School District

These Jordan Valley School students are 22 years old, or will be 22 before December, and have severe multiple disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, seizure disorders, communication impairments, genetic disorders and syndromes, deaf–blindness and those who are extremely medically fragile. Some of these students entered Jordan Valley at age five, while others may have only been here a few months.  Regardless, the school’s goal is to improve the quality of life for all students.

Canyons Board of Education member Steve Wrigley, who has worked with people with disabilities for 38 years, spoke to family members about their dreams.

“Don’t let a diagnosis kill your dreams for your child’s future,” he said.  “Change or modify your dreams, but keep dreaming and help your child see what they can become and how they can contribute to the world.”

To the students, Wrigley addressed their achievements and goals.

Mary Catherine Houston looks over her diploma with Iren Linnett, as Canyons School District Assistant Superintendent Kathryn McCarrie presents a diploma in the background. Photo courtesy of Julie Slama

“You have worked hard to be here today.  We are all proud of you.  You will need to dream and work with your parents in setting goals.  Like all graduating students this year, you will need to determine your future.  Everyone upon graduation has a story to write, and every one of you will make a difference in this world.  You need to decide what that will be,” he said.

Wrigley also thanked the school’s staff and faculty for their support of the students and the respect that is shared.

“So much love is given in this school, and so much love is given back,” he said.

Principal Mark Donnelly echoed his sentiments: “We learn more from these students than they learn from us.”

Students received their diplomas from Wrigley, Superintendent James Briscoe and Assistant Superintendent Kathryn McCarrie, with the assistance of Director of Special Education Robin Collett.

At the ceremony, a PowerPoint presentation, which included each student, from baby photos to current pictures, was shown to music especially written for Jordan Valley students by a previous staff member.

“This is exciting and very emotional.  Some of these students have been here 20 years and have touched our lives.  It’s sweet to see our homecoming king and queen graduate together.  It’s such a neat story where as neighbors they grew up and played together and rode a bus to school here each day.  Now, their families are continuing to support them as they make decisions about their future,” Donnelly said.

The school helps make families aware of options for their graduates.  Depending on students’ abilities, some find positions where they may be able to transition into the work force, most commonly assisting at a store, or they may enter a day group program where there is social interaction and field trip opportunities, he said.

Canyons School District Superintendent James Briscoe presents Connor Stevenson with his diploma on May 29 during Jordan Valley’s graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy of Canyons School District

Homecoming king Connor Stevenson has Koolen De Vries syndrome and has the ability to speak and think, but functions at a four-year-old level, said his processional escort and mother, Nevah Stevenson. Their family is looking at day group programs for Connor.

“I can’t help thinking about all the years Connor spent at Jordan Valley and how it is home for him,” she said.  “He never tired of the building because Jordan Valley isn’t about the brick and mortar.  It’s energy and enthusiasm and what feels a lot like love.  The people who work here are the real foundation,” she said.

Connor’s teacher, Gary Ren, said that it was a pretty emotional day for him, yet he told stories about Connor as well as his other students, pointing out whether they’re athletic, verbal, smart, affectionate, musically inclined or a jokester.

“Connor doesn’t forget anything and talks about everything,” Ren said.  “He loves Army men and movies.  He’s such a cool kid and so loveable.  Connor can come up to me and say, ‘Gary, I need a hug,’ or  ‘I love you,’ and I just melt.”  

Stevenson said she is grateful for the education and assistance the staff brings, not only to Connor, but to all students and families.

“I used to get teary every time I walked through the halls because I couldn’t believe how much joy was in the air.  I was grateful that every child I passed was receiving that gift. Now I walk through the halls and I can smile without tears because it’s become home to me, too.  I’ll always treasure what that school did for Connor and countless others,” she said.

Homecoming queen Chloe McKeever has until December until she leaves the school and decides her next step, as she won’t turn 22 until then.

“We’ve started looking for a day program that will fit Chloe’s needs and a place where she can use the skills she’s learned, but today is a milestone.  She knew it was a special day.  Her brother escorted her to the stage.  He went out and bought a tie that matched her gown.  He has a special place for her in his heart.  He’s inheritably thoughtful and caring and really tender with Chloe,” their mother, Heidi, said.

Chloe, who has Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome, is non-verbal and is about the same as a two-year-old developmentally, McKeever said.  Chloe entered Jordan Valley when she was five.

“She’s exceeded our expectations with all the support she’s received here.  She’s so happy and they make sure she can participate in everything,” she said.  “She’s really going to miss it when the day comes and the bus won’t be at our door to take her to Jordan Valley.”