When I met Clay* six years ago, he gave me a tour of his classroom at Dakota Memorial School on the Minot Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch campus. Because of his autism and other challenges, his movements were jerky and he made no eye contact. His words came out in a flat, staccato pattern. He showed me the baby chicks, where he sat when the teacher read, and a fireplace made out of construction paper next to which he liked to put his work table.
Clay had been largely non-verbal when he came to the Ranch, and his frustration came out in rages. He tore everything off the walls of the living area he shared with other boys, and off the walls of the school. He hit his classmates and often crumbled into a silent, mournful pile of little boy on the floor. Because of his challenges, he came to us having suffered severe bullying, trauma, and abuse from family and others who should have been his protectors.
The treatment professionals at the Ranch were committed to helping with his trauma and diagnoses, but what about school? Principal, Tina DeGree, and Clay’s teacher, Cher Baggett, believed he wanted to learn. They believed his intelligence and potential would come through if he had some skills that would allow him to share his feelings, frustrations, and thoughts.
After his time in residential care, a family stepped forward to bring him into their home, and he continued as a day student at Dakota Memorial School where he was in Cher’s multi-age classroom for several years. He thrived. He read a lot, he liked to help plan activities, and he liked special school theme days like “Hat Day” and “Super Hero Day.” He developed skills to express frustration in healthy ways and ask for help. He learned. He did so well that he was able to transition, with much planning and collaboration, to the home school district of his new family.
Last week, Cher sent me a letter she received from Clay. I have to admit that my eyes got pretty soggy as I read his words and remembered that little boy who gave me a tour.
Dear Ms. Baggett:
How are you doing? I hope that you are enjoying winter. I will never forget you and your classroom. I enjoyed talking with you over the phone that one day. It made me realize how easy it is to keep in touch with you and everyone that I meet. Thank you for everything that you have done in my life. When I was at the boys ranch, I really needed people that cared about me and my life. I needed people like you to help me find my confidence to be able to stand up in the world and stand out. Walking through my life I’ve realized that I’ve grown so much since I first went to the boys ranch. I’ve realized that in my life I am living proof that I can do more than I realized and that I will change the world. I hope that I can get my teachers license and one day teach English like you, so that I can help change lives like you have. I also hope to release a music album by the end of the school year. I’ll send you a copy, or you can come and pick it up at my graduation party. I’ll send you and invitation with the address on it. Hope to hear from you soon.
When you pray, send a donation, or support the work of Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch in any way, you are helping hundreds of kids like Clay. Like Cher and me, you can be proud of Clay.
Thank you. Please keep our kids and staff in your prayers.
In His love,
Joy Ryan, President/CEO
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
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