A Giant Step
Tots With Developmental, Medical Problems Graduate From Hospital Program
By Janina de Guzman
But a Bert doll is perched over a rail with hookups for oxygen tanks. A heart monitor rests above the wooden cribs.
These rooms are the classrooms of the Kids, Infants and Parents Program (KIPP), a day program run by the Hospital for Sick Children in Northeast Washington to help children overcome developmental delays caused by premature birth, genetic disorders and trauma.
Yesterday, KIPP's first graduating class -- eight 3- and 4-year-olds -- received certificates, hugs and warm applause from their families and KIPP staff amid purple ballons, pink streamers and a piano rendition of "I Believe I Can Fly."
The graduates, some tube-fed, others unable to walk or communicate when they started at KIPP, have learned to chew and swallow, to stand and take steps, to use sign language and talk, and they are now ready for integration into the D.C. public school system's special education and Head Start programs.
KIPP, created two years ago, is unique among the District's early intervention programs because it integrates extensive medical treatment with early learning for youngsters with severe medical problems, said program director Rose Stevan.
Shayna Kenney, 3, in a blue floral dress, white hair bow and frilly ankle socks, clutched a yellow balloon as she stepped forward to accept a certificate from teacher Stephawn Stephens.
She promptly handed it to her mother, Tammy Kenney. Kenney said her daughter was referred to KIPP after she was found to have cerebral palsy two years ago.
The medical treatment and learning programs helped Shayna -- once too weak to stand -- to walk. The little girl who used to never speak now "can say everything," said Kenney.
KIPP's 22 children range in age from 1 to 4 years old. To participate, children must be 50 percent delayed in motor, speech or cognitive skills and have a physician's referral. KIPP also works with the families to help reinforce its lessons at home.
As parents milled around KIPP classrooms yesterday, they tried on a special pair of dark glasses to get a sense of what a visually impaired child sees. They put grapes in their mouths and tried to talk, to get a sense of the speech problems the children struggle with.
Yesterday just after digging around in the sandbox and right before digging into lunch, Marc Carroll, 3, was scooped up by program nurse Deidre Hackey for a quick respiratory treatment for his wheezing.
Hackey placed a tube in Marc's mouth, and he sucked in a misty medicine from a nebulizer to open up his lungs. His mother, Robyn Carroll, who begins a program in respiratory therapy Monday at the University of the District of Columbia, sat nearby.
Like many of the children at KIPP, Marc was born premature and has spent his first few years catching up. He also has cerebral palsy. He wears braces on his legs and has trouble with motor skills, particularly on his right side.
"He's learned a lot. He's walking. He's dramatically changed," Carroll said.
Stephens, Marc's teacher, incorporates physical therapy into lesson plans. Stringing beads, grasping pencils and pasting stickers are geared to helping Marc strengthen his motor skills.
Instructor Belinda Ferrari works with KIPP's youngest children. She said the hospital care that many of the children required during their first year left them isolated and deprived.
"Most babies come right out of the hospital," she said. "It's hard to have stimulation when the walls are white. They don't get exposed to things they would have had at home," such as impromptu hugs from Mom or the company of siblings.
KIPP provides continuity in medical care while preparing children for the social situations and classroom settings they will encounter after KIPP.
"It feels wonderful" to watch the children progress, said Grace Lenihan, KIPP's speech pathologist and feeding therapist. "We get attached to them, but little birdies have to fly, and it's fun to watch them do that. It's very rewarding."
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