Molly Sansom is many things besides the brain injury she suffered at birth and the learning disability that resulted.
She’s also a natural leader, a skilled fern grower and whip cracker, and she looks great with blue and green hair — a style she calls “mermaid.” This weekend, Sansom will celebrate all that she is and everything she’s accomplished alongside her fellow Jean O’Dell Learning Center graduates.
“It’s really cool,” she said, adding that she can’t wait to wear her cap and gown.
Four years ago, Sansom began attending Jean O’Dell, one of three Polk County Public Schools learning centers for students with special needs. In that time, the school staff has worked closely with her to identify and apply her strengths, said Molly’s mother, Patricia Sansom.
“The school is really amazing,” Patricia said. “Molly likes to be the leader and the helper. They find ways for her to be who she is, whether it was passing out papers or walking a message to another classroom. They got to know my daughter, and they found places and roles for her to excel.”
With the school’s support, Molly did indeed excel.
Through Jean O’Dell’s FFA program, she learned how to grow beans, squash and collard greens — though she’s most proud of her ferns. She also competed in a whip-cracking event at the county’s Youth Fair. She participated in Special Olympics sports, including bowling, bocci, equestrian and cheerleading.
Molly learned to sort and count money, and the basics of budgeting and life skills, such as how to do laundry and place an order at a restaurant.
“She’s just matured so much. She’s always been so sweet, but she’s become a beautiful woman who is better able to express her wants and needs,” said teacher Samantha Avigliano. “She is able to go out into the community and talk to people. Every time she goes out, she knows someone.”
While Molly, 20, will participate in Saturday’s graduation ceremony, she is actually deferring her high school diploma until age 22. Until then, she will study in PCPS’ Transition program, taking part in a specialized curriculum focused on developing life and job skills.
As she continues in the Transition program, Molly said she wants to improve her ability to read, write and help her mother with household chores. But first she must celebrate, and she plans to do so with the things and people she loves most.
“We’re going to get pizza and take pictures,” she said. “My whole family is coming.”
PCPS’ three learning centers – Doris A. Sanders, Jean O’Dell and Karen M. Siegel – will stage their Class of 2020 graduations beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Lake Region High School. The ceremonies were delayed because of COVID-19.
PCPS will livestream the ceremonies on our YouTube channel, at youtube.com/polkcountypublicschools.