Tuesday, December 25, 2007

It's never too late to learn new things: Man with cerebral palsy proves that strong will prevails

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

You can tell him no, but it won't do any good.
Kevin Carr has a mind of his own. His cerebral palsy is just a footnote - something that makes him look and sound a little different.
'If he thinks he can do it, he's going to try,' said his mother, Bettye Carpenter of Granger.
That determination earned Carr a seat at Granger High School. Since the second week of September, the 44-year-old man has been attending classes, something he wasn't able to do in his youth.
'School,' he said, 'is a dream come true.'
His family decided to remove Carr from school when he was about 6. Mrs. Carpenter said the other children were mistreating him.
Carr remembers the event that made his mother fear for his safety.
'When I was young - I was in the first grade - the kids were mean to me,' Carr said effortlessly, his voice understandable, muffled only by mediocre muscle control. 'One day I got pushed down a cement slab. I fell down and hit my head. Ended up with a slight concussion. That's when my grandmother and mother decided to keep me at home.'
His tone wasn't bitter. He understands the decisions his family made.
'But as I got grown, I wanted to prove that I could do things,' Carr said. 'And it was hard to make everyone see that I could.'
He now drives, lives and socializes independently, all tasks his mother and grandmother thought him unable to accomplish.
Mrs. Carpenter now sees how frustrated her son was as a young adult.
'But then, I was afraid for him,' she said. 'I didn't think he could do all those things. It took a while for my eyes to open.'
Carr's stepfather, Claude Carpenter of Granger, is the person Carr credits with changing the way his family viewed him.
'My dad - he's my stepfather, but I call him my dad - treats me so much like a normal son,' Carr said. 'He bought me a truck before telling me that he was going to teach me to drive.'
Carpenter entered Carr's life in 2001 when he decided to marry Mrs. Carpenter. (Carr's birth father died in the 1970s.)
'I had a friend who had cerebral palsy, so I was familiar with the condition,' Carpenter said. 'My friend was able to do a lot, so I knew (Carr) would be able to as well.'
As Carr got a father in Carpenter, he got a sister in Cara Finn, Carpenter's daughter.
'I never had a sister, but I wanted one,' Carr said. 'All of a sudden I was a brother. And an uncle to her children. I love it.'
Mrs. Finn is just as tickled with the relationship.
'It's been a new experience for both of us,' Mrs. Finn said. 'But we all get along so well. When the family gets together, we play board games or cards.'
Being a few years younger than Carr, Mrs. Finn is the little sister.
'He worries about me,' Mrs. Finn said. 'He does take on the role of protector ... And the boys, they adore their uncle.'
Mrs. Finn has two sons, one 13 and the other 11.
'The youngest is in junior high,' Mrs. Finn said. 'So he's going to the same school as (Carr). It's turned out to be a neat experience for both of them.' (In Granger, the same building houses both the high school and the junior high school.)
While his nephew is going to regular junior high classes, Carr studies language arts at the fifth-grade level and basic math at the fourth-grade level. He requires special-needs instructors for these subjects.
'He's a quick learner. He started at the second-grade level,' said principal John Thorton.
Carr's favorite class is Texas history - a regular seventh-grade course taught by Todd Grandjean.
'I'm interested in learning about things that happened years ago,' Carr said. 'I like documentaries about the Titanic. Knowing what happened to other people interests me.' 

Getting to class
Carr's time as a student at Granger High School is not limited.
'There's no set date for graduation or completion,' Thorton said. 'It's about reaching (Carr's) personal goals.'
Carr's presence isn't included in the school's average daily attendance, so the district doesn't receive state funding for his educational expenses.
His education, therefore, is considered a community service.
'We're treating it like the adults who come at night for ESL help,' Thorton said.
The grades that Carr earns in his courses do not get reported to the state.
'His grades matter to him, though,' Thorton said. 'And they let us know how much he's improved and which areas require more work.'
Carr has several objectives he must master before his schooling at Granger High School is considered complete. He developed them with Thorton's aid.
'We want his memory strong,' Thorton said. 'We want him to be able to read at a sixth-grade level, so that he can be able to read a newspaper, understand it and discuss it.'
Ideally, Carr wants his written vocabulary to match his spoken vocabulary.
Once Carr achieves these goals, Thorton said it's possible that Carr will receive a certificate of completion.
'We'll just see how it goes. So far, it's been great. There's been no problems,' Thorton said. 'The only thing I tell him about quitting school is that he has to retire when I do.'
Carr's taking one day at a time with his schoolwork. He's not in a hurry to see it over.
'I don't want to graduate,' Carr said, grinning. 'I'm having so much fun, learning new things and being friends with my classmates.'
Since starting school in Granger, Carr said his lessons 'stay more fresh' in his head than they did when he studied a couple of hours each week at the Temple College campus in Taylor.
'I take my schoolwork seriously,' Carr said. 'In my first report card, I got all 95s. On the second one, I had a 95 in everything but math.'
That score had dropped to 90.
'It's the times tables I'm having trouble with,' Carr said. 'They tell me not to worry about it, but I want to do good in school. It's important to me.' 

No more no
Just as he's not counting the days to graduation, Carr is not counting the days to Christmas.
'I've got my Christmas,' Carr said. 'I've got school and my friends. I'm fortunate enough to already have a lot of things. If there's something I want, well, I've got money. I'll go out and buy it.'
If he were to get a holiday wish, though, Carr said he'd like not to hear the word 'no' again.
'I am a normal man. I don't want special privileges,' Carr said. 'I want to earn what I get. If I need help, I'll ask for it. I just want to try.'

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