Kathy Jones spends her days celebrating seemingly small accomplishments.
For the past 30 years, the 52-year-old from Crystal Lake has been a teacher at the Special Education District of McHenry County Center School in Woodstock, which is slated to close after this school year. Her students, in the intermediate-age group, work on motor skills and daily living skills, and some spend their days simply responding to stimuli.
But, the thing is, it’s not simple, she said several times over.
“Every little thing the students do, to us, is a major accomplishment,” Jones said, going on to proudly share several stories, as if bragging about her own children.
There is one 10-year-old student who received high praise for standing up from the floor on her own. Another 12-year-old gave her mom and grandma a happy surprise by feeding herself for the first time. And a third student who had spinal surgery that resulted in an inability to move her legs got an ecstatic audience during school one day.
“She had been crawling before the surgery, but then after [she] had no movement in her legs,” Jones said. “Our therapist has really worked hard, and last spring, we saw a little movement in her legs and we called everyone into the room to see her move them. It was just a little movement, but we were so excited about it. ... She’s now crawling.”
To help the SEDOM students achieve some of these goals, Jones said she uses hand-over-hand assistance. Her lessons also involve weight-bearing, practicing range of motion movements, plus using music and art to stimulate students’ senses.
Going day-by-day, minute-by-minute to help special-needs students grow isn’t just Jones’ career, either. It’s her life.
She adopted Danny, 22, when he was 4. He has cerebral palsy, but Jones described him as “pretty independent.” Her 16-year-old daughter, Shayann, who’s wheelchair-bound and needs oxygen 24-hours a day, was adopted at 17 months old. Devontae, 14, came home with Jones and her husband when he was 9 months old. He has CHARGE syndrome. Each letter of the acronym stands for some of the more common conditions associated with the genetic disorder. And Jones’ youngest is 12-year-old Verrick, who deals with some social and emotional issues.
Jones said she’s experienced and celebrated some accomplishments at home just as she has at school.
“Devontae is eating on his own now, and we were told he would probably never walk, but he’s walking and talking and doing things we never thought he’d be able to do,” Jones said.
She couldn’t think of any hobbies to speak of, adding she mostly spends time with her family outside of work.
“Because of the wide range of needs my own kids have, it can be time-consuming,” Jones said. “It’s challenging, but it’s always been worth it.”
Watching Jones work with her students, as well as her own children, has been inspiring for Missy Robel of Ringwood. Robel, who was a nurse at SEDOM Center for a couple years and now is a good friend of Jones, said the encouragement her friend offers to special-needs children is amazing.
“I got to see how she intervened with children of all different levels of special needs,” Robel said. “You take a child who can’t walk or sit up, and the smallest of milestones was celebrated by Kathy, and before long the child was at the next milestone, and then the next.
“She’s a little, bitty, tiny thing, but she can move mountains.”
Jones’ focus is on the children because they work toward accomplishing things all too trivial to most other people, she said.
“Anytime they do something, I’m just so proud of them and how hard they work,” Jones said. “We take so much of what we can do for granted, but every little thing they do is big.”