GUYTON — Michael Holton didn’t appear to be the least bit nervous. Perhaps it was because the friendly young man with Down syndrome was in a place he had been many times before.
On Monday, Holton started a new career at South Effingham Elementary School. His title is instructional support. His immediate supervisor is Kellie Lee, who had him as a kindergarten student in 1999.
“I’m so excited for all the students to have the experience of interacting with someone who is differently abled,” Lee said. “We don’t have a lot of special-needs children at our school so they are not with them.”
Holton’s arrival was delayed by a serious battle with COVID-19. He was originally expected to start in August during the first week of school.
“We had a little bit of a setback with that but we are so glad he is starting today,” Assistant Principal Kelly Fortson said.
Holton spent several weeks in the hospital but all is well with him today.
“He did some rehab and recovered at home, and now he’s back," Fortson said. "He is very excited, very enthusiastic. He walks around and passes out his business cards to the teachers.”
Holton assists Lee in the technology lab.
“The kids are very excited” Fortson said. “Mrs. Lee had been preparing them for Mr. Holton from day one so they have been anticipating his arrival for weeks now. They talk about him frequently in class.”
Holton has loved technological gadgets and gizmos since he was a child.
“Yes, I have, sir,” Holton said enthusiastically as a group of fifth graders walked into Lee’s classroom. “This is a big deal — meeting new kids, a new opportunity. I couldn’t wait for today to get here.”
Being able to socialize is Holton’s favorite part of the job.
“I think the benefits for him are that he gets to thrive in a professional setting and work with people who love him, and students who love him,” Fortson said. “He gets to work in an environment that he is very comfortable in. I think it will be a very positive work environment for Michael.”
Holton has been employed before.
“Michael has been involved in supported employment through B & B Care Services (in Springfield),” said Mandy Cooke, a B & B Care Services employee.
The mission of B & B Care Services is to empower disabled individuals and their families to identify the supports and services needed to achieve the quality of life they desire.
“We were in the midst of job developing trying to find the right job for Michael,” Cooke said. “He had expressed a desire to go into the school system and we met with Mrs. Lee, and we met with (Superintendent) Dr. (Yancy) Ford and (Principal) Mr. (Mark) Weese, and we made it happen through supported employment.”
Cooke said Holton’s presence in the school is a lesson unto itself.
“The kids are being taught that you can still achieve your goals even if you’re different,” she said. “You can still be anything you want to be. It also teaches the acceptance of others.
“It’s just amazing.”
Lee agreed wholeheartedly.
“Michael has amazed me his whole life,” she said. “Even today, things that I thought he couldn’t do, he has shown us otherwise.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about supported employment opportunities, call Cooke at 912-754-0817 or email email@example.com.