By Jennifer Hillin
Five-year-old Sophia once asked her mother, “why are there always people around me, mommy?” Mrs. Castillo told her daughter through teary eyes, “Don’t worry. They want to help you go through this, but in a good way… they are here for you.”
In the spring of 2013, Sophia’s family began to notice strange symptoms from their daughter, like a growing belly, her not sweating, and her inability to develop tears.
When the symptoms worsened, her family took her to the hospital. Sophia’s kidneys were failing and the doctors were powerless to help. She was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease.
The next year, the family began exploring options for Sophia’s education, including several daycares and private schools, but none of them matched the care, services and school environment of Head Start.
The Castillos attempted to enroll Sophia in the BCFS Education Services’ Head Start program in Pleasanton, Texas. But complications from Sophia’s disease derailed their plans. The doctor’s removed her kidneys in October of 2014. Shortly after that, the family started doing dialysis at home.
Although the family was nervous about Sophia leaving home for school, they reapplied for Head Start in the spring. BCFS Education Services Family Specialists met with Mrs. Castillo and started gathering information to ease Sophia’s entrance into the program. Prior to Sophia’s acceptance, BCFS Education Services worked with the family and school district to ensure Sophia’s needs could be met.
At first, Mrs. Castillo was concerned about Sophia’s ability to socialize with other children. But a few weeks into the school year, Mrs. Castillo dashed these fears after a visit to the classroom on a day when Sophia and her classmates were building birdhouses.
“I saw how Sophia interacts with the teacher, with the environment, other kids, everybody,” said Mrs. Castillo. “When she has to interact with other kids at the hospital, it’s different. They’re each in their own bubbles at the hospital and it’s like ‘we can share a little,’ but in class they shared with everyone, and cared about everyone.”
Most importantly, Mrs. Castillo says Sophia never felt “separate” in her Head Start classroom. “They never compare… everybody can be their own self.”
Because of this, Sophia became more outgoing. Sophia’s family also met with a nutritionist through Head Start, an experience Mrs. Castillo says gave her useful tips on how to handle Sophia’s dietary restrictions.
Mrs. Castillo says Head Start helped Sophia build more independence. “She has showed me several times, ‘I can do this on my own, and she’s really good. I never expected to see her like that.”
The Castillos are currently waiting on a kidney transplant for Sophia, hoping a match will be found. But Sophia isn’t afraid. As she so perfectly sums up in her catchphrase, “I’m cool if you’re cool!”
Head Start is a national program that promotes school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children by providing educational, health, nutritional and social services to enrolled children and their families. BCFS Education Services operates almost 100 Head Start classrooms across Texas.