This occasional series features some of those remarkable students with special circumstances who are served and cared for by local schools.
Bryson Anderson smiles as he tells you how fast he can move.
The 10-year-old fourth-grader at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School loves fast cars, “old-timey cars” and his motorized wheelchair.
Bryson has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which required him to be in a wheelchair late last year. The change required Fair Street to make some adjustments to meet Bryson’s needs.
“He’s really outgoing, especially to be going through what he’s going through,” said Bryson’s mother, Stephanie Anderson. “Just last year he was walking, and this year he’s in a power chair.”
Bryson’s teacher Courtney Revels-Turner said Bryson is in her emotional behavior class at Fair Street, which helps children achieve both academic and behavioral goals.
“We work on a very structured token economy system,” Turner said. “They have to earn everything in here, and it’s all based on behavior.”
The five students in Bryson’s class can earn “$10 per hour” and can then purchase treats or privileges with their money. Such privileges can include use of a backpack — which the students are typically not allowed to keep with them because it can be a distraction — or participation in a fun Friday activity.
“It teaches them behavior, but it also teaches them saving and choosing between that instant gratification or working their way up to save for Friday activity,” Turner said. “It’s a buy-in: they know if they want to do it, they have to have the behavior.”
For Bryson, one privilege is the use of his motorized chair. The chair is so fast, he could nearly outrun any of the teachers, Turner said, and Bryson knows it comes with responsibility.
“People don’t always know how hard these kids work,” Turner said. “...Our policy is we are firm, fair and consistent, and that is the key to changing behavior.”
The class also includes greater emphasis on helping children identify feelings, Turner said.
“It’s about the feeling that comes with being impulsive. It’s really, ‘I feel alone,’ or ‘I feel threatened.’ So we have a lot of those conversations and ask a lot of those questions.”
When Bryson first got his chair last year, his classmates at Fair Street lined the halls to welcome him in it.
“They cheered for me,” he says with a smile. “Nobody ever did that before.”
Bryson, who loves science and history lessons, horses and “all animals,” will celebrate his 11th birthday Thursday.
His mother said it can be hard to achieve her first priority: doing what is best for Bryson.
She said Fair Street was most accommodating when they allowed Bryson to start coming in for half days this year.
“I think really they helped us out the most when they said it was OK for him to go half a day,” Anderson said. “He gets agitated after lunchtime, so they’ve made it possible for him to come home after lunch. That’s helped out a lot and he’s not in as much trouble since starting that this year.”
As for Bryson, he wants to make the most of his chair, by participating in the Special Olympics wheelchair races.
“My chair is really fast,” he said. “It’s cool.”