- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

TRINITY, Fla. (AP) - Evan Wolin sat patiently in his slightly oversized cap and knee-length black gown, waiting his turn.

One by one, the teacher called his classmates to the stage. Then, finally, she read his name.

Evan burst from his seat, sped to the front and grabbed his diploma, a huge smile eclipsing his face. He thrust the paper into the air with an extra arm pump, as his mom, Jessica, tried not to cry while she captured it all on her phone.

He was so ready for kindergarten.

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Nearly three years ago, when Evan first entered Longleaf Elementary’s preschool program for children with developmental delays, few predicted that this day would come.

At 2 1/2 years old, he had barely begun walking, hadn’t started talking and coped daily with many medical problems stemming from being born a micropreemie.

“On paper, his medical diagnosis had us thinking, ‘Oh, my,’ ” recalled school speech pathologist Janice Whittaker.

Since he still sometimes used a feeding tube, some of the staff at Longleaf thought Evan might be better suited for a program at Cotee River Elementary, which had dedicated nurses on staff. But his mom, a special-education teacher, and dad, a school administrator, did not want their son in a medical unit.

“I knew developmentally I wanted him in the area school. I knew that he had more in him,” Jessica Wolin said. “Although he wasn’t speaking, although he wasn’t eating, I knew he was very bright. . I always wanted him to be challenged.”

Teacher Heather Goldstein, also a neighbor of the Wolins who remembered seeing Evan come home as an infant “with every tube connected to him,” committed to making her classroom work for his needs.

“As soon as they told me, I went right online to research everything,” she said. “I thought, if he is coming I want to make sure I have everything in place.”

Before he arrived, Goldstein reorganized the furniture in her book- and toy-filled classroom to make it easier for Evan to navigate. She continued to learn about his medical demands and prepare for his academic requirements, communicating with his family to keep them informed on daily activities.

Jessica Wolin praised Goldstein’s dedication, saying the teacher went above and beyond to make Evan feel at home in school and to help ensure his success. District special-education prekindergarten coordinator Kelli Boles never doubted it.

Goldstein, Boles said, exemplifies what the school district wants from its teachers in the program, which is federally funded and guaranteed to all eligible children with special needs ages 3 to 5. When other educators need training or classroom ideas, Boles sends them to Goldstein.

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