In 2016, when the staff at Sierra School in Sacramento, CA learned of a young man named Angel and the struggles he and his mother had endured in seeking a program, little did they know the impact they would have on him over the next two years… or the impact Angel would have on them.
Angel’s severe autism rendered him non-verbal with the cognitive level of a 4-year-old. His behaviors were erratic, destructive and oftentimes violent, putting himself and those around him at risk. Other programs aimed at helping students like Angel would no longer accept him because of the severity of his diagnosis. His struggles and shortcomings were, unfortunately, not being addressed effectively.
When we came to the school, I just thought, he could fit in here, this looks promising. But we were helpless at that point. We were just thinking, please, just give us a chance. Just meet him and give him the opportunity.
After meeting with his mother and Angel’s home school district, Brittany Auernig, Executive Director of Sierra School and the staff offered him a spot in their program because they believed they could help. The faculty and staff at Sierra School committed fully to Angel’s success, including providing him transportation to and from school, a two-hour commute each way. Additionally, the team knew that in order to achieve any form of success, they had to first get to the root of Angel’s behavioral issues that prevented him from advancing and build a foundation for his success.
It took a very dedicated team and a very patient team to figure out what he liked because he’s non-verbal, he can’t tell us what he likes. We really had to get creative and I credit that to Mr. Hill. for coming up with a program that worked for Angel.
Once Angel was enrolled, the staff ensured the classroom environment was conducive to his needs with Aaron directly supporting him both academically and personally on a daily basis. Earning Angel’s trust, fostering positive social interactions and getting him involved in academic activities that resonated with him, ensured his focus and attention and reduced disruptive outbursts.
“I know how it feels to have somebody give up on you,” said Aaron, “He’s a perfect example of kids who are always overlooked. Or kids who others lost faith in.” But for Aaron and his colleagues, giving up on Angel wasn’t an option. Lead by Aaron, staff developed a plan for Angel and adjusted the structure of their lessons as necessary to accommodate him. This included providing down time to allow him to get used to the new environment while also increasing outdoor time where Angel could complete his lessons.
“In the past 6 months, we decided we were going to push the academic component, and really try to get Angel engaged in figuring out who he is,” said Brittany Auernig. “It’s taken a group effort.”
The staff at Sierra School has worked tirelessly over the past 2 years to get Angel where he is now socially and behaviorally and the results are no more visible than to his mother. Earlier this year, Angel attended and danced at his mother’s wedding. Something that was inconceivable two years ago.
He’s just a different person now. He loves to go to school. They changed his life. They gave him a chance. They helped not just him, but they helped our whole family. They changed his whole life – his whole future.