Peoples Baptist Academy, McDonough
Spend a moment with 5-year-old Sauyer Stewart and you may not experience the unexpected. Sauyer - like a lot of her pre-kindergarten classmates at Peoples Baptist Academy in McDonough - is energetic, full of wonder, and loves her days learning and playing at the Henry County school. What's not so apparent is how wonderful a journey the first-year Arete Scholar and her mom, Rhonda, have traveled to get to this point in their lives.
Born at 27 weeks, or 13 weeks premature, Sauyer weighed just 2 pound, 7 ounces at birth. A severe case of a digestive condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (or GERD) meant that Sauyer had to be tube-fed for the first year of her life.
"Nothing could go into her tummy," said Rhonda Stewart. "All nutrients had to be routed directly into her intestines. Anything in her stomach would come up and choke her...we had two life-threatening episodes in that first year."
The challenges of raising a premature infant meant that Ms. Stewart had to leave her corporate job and become a full-time mom and caregiver. Despite receiving some of the nation's best infant medical care, Sauyer still required in-home nursing assistance and regular therapy to overcome developmental and motor skills concerns. In 2010, the already difficult circumstances were made worse when Ms. Stewart found herself single and without support at home.
"It was hard to give up my career and salary and then to relocate back home to Georgia after so many years," said Ms. Stewart, who along with her sister also provides in-home care to their ailing father. "We came south with no income and no way to provide for my child, but we did come back to family and a stable environment of love and support."
Rhonda Stewart also arrived in the Atlanta area with few educational options for Sauyer. Ms. Stewart tried half days at a local preschool with 20 students in the classroom, but was told by teachers that Sauyer was "already behind and developmentally delayed." A move to a facility with smaller classroom sizes and individualized instruction made an immediate difference.
Having heard about Arete Scholars Fund from her older sister, Rhonda Stewart researched the tuition tax credit scholarship program and eventually applied for and received a full $5,800 Arete scholarship to the eligible school of her choice. Ms. Stewart's choice was to evaluate over 25 private schools in the South Metro area before finding one that offered "a perfect fit" for Sauyer.
"From the moment I walked into PBA, it's been a wonderful experience," Stewart said. "The administration, the teachers, the curriculum - it's all been just exactly what we needed."
And how has Sauyer responded?
"It's been amazing," offered Ms. Stewart. "Her teacher says Sauyer is one of the brightest students in the class. She loves to go to school. She loves to read and sing and go to chapel. Sauyer is just blooming and flourishing."
Sauyer's pediatric doctors, who have continued to monitor her progress on a regular basis, are celebrating along with the Stewarts. They are "blown away and thrilled that this has become a reality for Sauyer," according to Ms. Stewart.
“Without the school, Sauyer wouldn't be where she is," Stewart said. "And there’s no way she could be here without the Arete scholarship."
"Sauyer is a walking testimony of God's goodness."
For more information about Peoples Baptist Academy, visit them online at www.peoplesbaptistacademy.org.
Wed, May 2, 2012