A Guiding Light

New Program at Holy Rosary Catholic School gives parents hope for children with autism

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Carnell was the first professional to tell Genni and Chris McKey-Greer, that their son, Luke, has much potential. “She gave us something we had not had, and that was hope,” says Genni. “That woman has changed his world.”
Families credit Carnell and her staff for making them better parents and bringing their families closer together.

“We’ve never seen anybody more dedicated who truly loves the kids and the cause,” say Mathew and Elizabeth Domas, whose son, Nolan, started in the ANGEL core program in 2010. He is now a first-grade Halo student. Carnell knows how to build trust with the children.

“[Nolan] adores Jessica. But she makes him work and doesn’t give him any slack,” says Elizabeth. “They’re so gentle and kind yet they expect so much, so our kids get so much,” she says.

The faculty at Holy Rosary assess each child, noting they must be fairly high functioning to enter the program. Says Mullins, “We want to provide a realistic opportunity for families and children. We don’t want to put them in a position where they won’t be successful.” Each child progresses at his own pace; some remain in the core program for more than a year, as long as the staff can help them advance.

The program began with nine students and a staff of three, but in three years has grown to 17 students and seven professionals. Four students have graduated the program and now attend regular kindergarten and first-grade classes at Holy Rosary.

The school has also become a one-stop shop for many ANGEL parents, who like having all of their children attending the same school. Currently, six families who have a child in the ANGEL program also have siblings enrolled here.

Helping Kids Grow

In 2010, Tamrra and Chris Dindl moved their son, Ryan, from a special education preschool program in a public school, where he was regressing, to the ANGEL program where he receives individualized attention. Daily communication with teachers helps the couple “use what he’s learning in school at home and we can make needed changes in a timely manner,” they say via email. The Dindls have been impressed with the significant improvement in Ryan’s verbal communications. “It used to be a guessing game when he was upset,” says Tamrra. “He went from no communication to physically guiding us, then single word requests and answers to now using full sentences.”

“I think it is a blessing to have this program here in Memphis,” says Alvis Otero. “It should be a pilot for many schools in the city of Memphis and the state of Tennessee for that matter.” Otero’s son, Leander Castro, is fully mainstreamed in kindergarten now, after a year and a half as a Halo student.

Leander, who also has ADHD, would act out his extreme frustration by hitting his head or pushing his peers, says his father. “Now he has the tools to express his thoughts in a clear and concise manner [appropriate] to his age. He also is more understanding of challenges other children face and demonstrates compassion towards others,” says Otero. “At home he is happy, cooperative, and does his homework on time without struggles or extreme supervision.”

“The program provides the early intervention children need to be successful in life. The staff are unique, qualified professionals, and extremely loving towards the children, which allows them to grow and focus on the things they can do versus the challenges they face,” he adds.

ANGEL Program at 
Holy Rosary Catholic School
Serves ages 3-7

Mission: To help children with autism 
become more independent and eventually mainstream into regular classrooms.

For admission details, contact Assistant Principal Anne Gardino, 685-1231

Tuition: $975 per month
Funding: Grant from the Buckman Foundation and private donations via ANGEL Wings. The program is seeking more corporate and private funding to expand its services. To learn more, contact Marty Petrusek, mpetrusek@trane.com.

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