The first time Amy visited her new student Jake in his home, his two-year-old brother Damon came sliding down the banister clad only in red underwear. Jake’s mom rolled her eyes and said, “I’m going to need help with that one too.”
As a Bellefaire school-based program counselor, Amy began working with Jake when he entered kindergarten at a public school on Cleveland’s west side. She did a thorough behavioral and psychological evaluation on Jake when his teacher reported he made no eye contact, had crying fits, and would often daydream. Being overweight did not help and some of his classmates were already calling him names. “At age 6, when most kids imagine themselves as highflying super heroes, Jake was falling into a depression,” said Amy.
Amy began meeting with Jake weekly, observed him in the classroom and conferred with his teacher on a regular basis. Part of her work with Jake also involved home visits. In Jake’s case she was lucky to have a cooperative parent. “Much of the success of my work hinges on cooperation at home, without that support it is an uphill battle all the way,” she said. “When looking at the whole child, what goes on at home is a big part of the picture.”
During one of her early home visits Amy noticed Jake’s mom fed her family salty potato chips and greasy hot dogs for dinner. A bag of donuts was on the counter. “Just as my food habits came from mother’s kitchen so did Jake’s,” said Amy.
“From birth Jake was fed an unhealthy processed food diet. As he got older he learned to use those fatty salty foods to soothe his feelings of rejection and loneliness.”
Without a first-hand knowledge of good nutrition, a computer to research healthy eating and a limited food budget, Jake’s mom had no frame of reference for cooking nutritional meals. Amy gave her recipes for rice and beans, black eye pea tacos, and fried rice with broccoli and eggs. She also urged her to use her food dollars to buy fresh fruits and vegetables instead of sugary and salty snacks and soda pop. Through Amy’s efforts Jake’s mom learned there was a Cleveland Food Bank pantry only four blocks from their home that offered free, fresh produce to the neighborhood during the summer.
When Jake entered first grade he had lost 24 pounds and had attended a sports camp at a neighborhood recreation center that summer. “Jake experienced the boyish thrill of holding a ball in his hands, and being accepted by his peers which made him a lot happier, but he still had trouble following classroom directions,” said Amy.
Amy’s “Ah-Ha” moment came one afternoon while watching Jake at recess. Jake nearly got hit in the head by a swing on the playground despite warning shouts from his teacher. “He kept running towards that flying wooden swing,” Amy said. When Jake’s teacher took him aside and asked him why he did not listen to the shouted warnings he said ‘I didn’t hear anybody yell.” At that moment Amy considered the possibility that Jake had a hearing impairment, and scheduled a session with the school’s speech and hearing specialist.
A hearing test revealed Jake was totally deaf in his right ear and had a slight deficiency in his left ear, which explained why he was having attention issues. Amy helped Jake’s mom access county resources for the hearing impaired where he was taught ways to cope with his hearing loss. In the classroom Jake’s desk was strategically placed to better hear his teacher.
Jake, now a fifth grader, is a different child than the obese, day dreaming kindergartener Amy
first met. He was taken off her caseload at the end of fourth grade. But his hyperactive banister sliding brother Damon? “Oh Damon is definitely a work in progress,” laughs Amy. “When looking at the whole child, what goes on at home is a big part of the picture