A big heart goes a long way

Learning disability, special education, work-based learning, industry training, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Kennedy Krieger High SchoolDuring the two years that I have worked at Café James—a classroom at Kennedy Krieger High School that teaches students job skills in the hospitality industry—I’ve been so privileged to work with Jerome. His shining personality is always hard to miss, even in previous years, just in passing, when he would walk down the hallway past my homeroom. At first, I didn’t know Jerome at all, but I instantly liked him a lot.

As time went on, I watched him interacting with his peers in the halls and in the cafeteria, and I began to realize what made Jerome so special: He is one of the kindest, most truthful, and heartfelt people there is. Everyone likes him and he is friendly and respectful to everyone he meets.

After he was diagnosed with a learning disability, Jerome was enrolled into Kennedy Krieger School’s Fairmount Campus. Now about to graduate from Kennedy Krieger High School, he has been working hard ever since.

Kennedy Krieger Institute, special education, work-based learning, industry training, learning disability, Kennedy Krieger High SchoolIn addition to his learning difficulties, Jerome has experienced personal hardships at home, problems that might possibly break other people. There have been countless times when I have heard about issues he was dealing with outside of school and thought that I couldn’t even imagine what he must be going through or even try to put myself in his shoes. Yet, nearly every day without fail, Jerome enters class with his amazing smile, eager to learn, work, and assist his peers and customers. He doesn’t let people feel bad for him. He doesn’t even let people know that there might be a reason to feel bad for him. Jerome understands everyone is fighting some kind of battle, and all he can do is try his very best to push through and stay positive. And his positivity radiates to those around him, making him a leader and a positive role model for many of his peers.

Recently, I had a conversation with him about one of his peers who still has a few more years of high school. Jerome was telling me that he was going to miss a few days of school to visit the Division Of Rehabilitation Services, which supports the employment and economic independence of people with disabilities, to observe what day-to-day work life is like. This was a great opportunity for Jerome to see how different life would be after high school. But, although he was incredibly excited about his future endeavors, one thing he stressed was that his few days away from school were going to be a good test for his friend. I had to ask him why he was focusing on his friend.

Kennedy Krieger Institute, special education, learning disability, Kennedy Krieger High School, work-based learning, industry training“Well I know I’m going to be fine. I have things together and know that I can make the right choices. I worry about him because sometimes he needs me around to help him make the right choices,” Jerome explained. “He’s grown up a lot, but I don’t want him to get in trouble when I’m not here. There’s still a lot that I can teach him.”

I was so impressed, but at the same time not at all surprised. Jerome is always looking out for others first. He wants other people to feel as fortunate as he does and to feel like they can accomplish whatever they put their mind to. This is one example of his good will towards others, but if you know Jerome, you know his genuine concern for a peer isn’t even the half of it.

It’s hard not to be concerned about my seniors when they graduate, and I’d be lying if I said I was sure they would all live happy, successful lives. Many of them have so much to overcome, even outside of their disabilities, but when I think of my seniors and wonder how Jerome will do, I genuinely feel that he’ll be just fine. As long as he keeps that positive attitude of his, people will respect him everywhere he goes and feel compelled to offer him the support he needs in any way that they can.

Lindsay Balladarsch is a special education teacher at Kennedy Krieger High School and also Certified Food Service Manager of Café James, part of the high school’s Industry program.

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2 Responses to A big heart goes a long way

  1. Michele says:

    Such a sweeet blog! Whenever I would visit Cafe James, I would always be so impressed with Jerome. Thank you for sharing his story.

  2. Patty L. says:

    I worked with Jerome years ago at Fairmount when he was a little guy. It makes me so happy to see what a nice young man he’s become. He was always such a sweet, friendly guy, and I’m so pleased to hear about how well he’s been doing. Thanks for the really nice posting, Lindsay.

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