SAINT GEORGE — When Diana Wade's daughter was born with Down Syndrome, a team of doctors explained to her what life would be like for her new baby.
"I always describe it as a quick trip to hell," said Wade, a retired teacher and mother of eight who is out to shatter stereotypes when it comes to the potential of so-called special-ed students.
Wade started a nonprofit school, Children of Hope Academy. It's open to people with all sorts of learning challenges, including Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and brain injuries.
Among her students is JB Sullivan, 26, who was born with a learning disability.
He made it through 12th grade, but struggled to spell, count money, and read traffic signs.
Today? Thanks to Wade's school, JB is a whole new man — reading at a level he never thought possible.
Wade started the Children of Hope Academy four years ago.
"There is no limit to where we're going," Wade said. "There's no limit, and don't let anyone ever tell you that you cannot do this because we really don't know."
Sara Ehrling of the National Association for Childhood Development, consults for the school.
"You can see the energy," she said. "You can feel it when they come in here. They're ready to work."
Students work on sequential processing, short-term memory, working memory and other bases for cognitive thought.
Strengthening working memory, Ehrling said, can unlock other windows in the brain, where cognitive growth can take place.
"I don't feel like I'm a retard in class anymore," JB said.
For JB's mom, Sue Ellen Sullivan, the transformation is a miracle.
"It's just like the whole world's in his hands now," she said.
Said JB: "Diana is like the best teacher I ever met. ... She doesn't let you get down on yourself. You gotta make yourself happy."
For JB, 'happiness' these days is spending time with his wife and family. Now they talk about possibilities instead of road blocks.
"I wouldn't be surprised by what he can do, the more he learns," Sue Ellen said.
For more info about the school, visit Children of Hope Academy's website.