Transferring to a different school in the middle of the year can be traumatic for almost any child, but for 8-year-old Trek Friesth, the pending move last month from Esperanza Elementary to Colina Elementary was fraught with devastating consequences.
Because the Ahwatukee youngster has Fragile X Syndrome – the leading genetic cause of developmental delays and autism – the boy was losing more than a nurturing environment where his mother, Sarah Friesth, teaches first grade.
He was losing a large part of his world.
Virtually no one in the Esperanza community – students, parents and staff included – was about to let that happen.
With only two days’ notice, they banded together to throw Trek a sendoff he likely will never forget – because they showed Trek they won’t ever forget him.
The week of March 25 capped weeks of agonizing soul-searching by Sarah and Doug Friesth about their son.
They had watched the third-grader struggle in school, where his classmates were learning subjects like Greek mythology and he was falling behind as the result of his developmental disability.
“It was way over his head,” said Sarah.
“It was a gut punch when I learned that maybe it wasn’t the best setting,” said Sarah, noting she and Doug had specifically chosen Esperanza.
They concluded that while he had been doing reasonably well up till now, it was time to find a new elementary school in the Kyrene district that had the kind of educational program children in his condition need.
And that exists in only three of the district’s 25 schools.
The Friesths wanted Colina, largely because Trek could eventually be reunited with his friends from Esperanza once they all got to Centennial Middle School and, in turn, feed into Mountain Pointe High.
So, they put in for the transfer to Colina, hoping to get an OK that was no sure bet even though Sarah is a district employee.
They got the approval on March 25 and the same day, Trek’s teacher, Christy Martin, emailed parents and staff, writing:
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I inform you that our dearly loved student Trek will be moving to another school this Thursday (March 28). Trek has truly been a special addition to Esperanza throughout his years.
“Everyone has been able to count on Trek to make them smile, laugh, and lighten the mood. His presence has been an opportunity for us all to learn how to go about life with a carefree love thy neighbor attitude.”
Martin threw a class party on March 26, but she called for a schoolwide send-off on March 27, Trek’s last day at Esperanza.
Noting that day was “going to be a very difficult day for not only Trek but for his very large fan club and family here at Esperanza,” she asked parents to dress their kids in red – Trek’s favorite color.
She asked that they tape a large “T” somewhere on that shirt.
And so they did, taping “Ts” on shirts; some stenciling “Ts” on others; one even used a Cricut, a home die-cutting machine used for scrapbooking, to make a “T.”
Virtually everyone came to school on March 27 wearing red. Most taped special words of affection on their shirts along with a big “T.” Some parents went beyond that, decorating their kids’ shirts with Superman logos while sending along cards, balloons and other big displays of affection for Trek.
Teachers and other school staff made banners, brought glow rings and glow sticks and danced in a giant assembly that became a sea of red in tribute to Trek – all to remind him that Esperanza will always be his second home.
His mother was stunned at the outpouring.
“He loved it,” she said. “I know he felt special. At times it was a little overwhelming because kids with Fragile X don’t like to be too much the center of attention.”
But because Martin and other Esperanza staff, including Principal Cheryl Greene, had created “such an amazing community,” they knew how to deal with Trek.
“They know when to give him space and when to give him help,” his mother said.
That week was especially hard in some ways for Trek’s parents because it marked the sixth anniversary of his diagnosis.
Tests confirmed he had Fragile X, caused by a mutated X chromosome passed down through the mother.
Approximately 1 in 3,600-4,000 males have FXS while 1 in 4,000-6,000 females have it according to statistics from the National Fragile X Foundation. It’s less prevalent in females because they have two X chromosomes.
According to a 2012 study, 1 in 151 females have the permutation and 23 percent of people with it had a child with a disability.
Trek’s older brother, 11-year-old Tate, does not carry the mutation.
Fragile X can present itself through ADD, ADHD, autism and autistic behaviors, social anxiety, hand-biting or flapping, sensory disorders or aggression.
Doctors who are aware of FXS can diagnose the syndrome through a simple $100 blood test so that women can know the risk before they start having babies.
Sarah learned she carried the gene the day before Trek was diagnosed.
Sarah and Doug found the right doctors, plugged into a community of parents whose children suffer from the disorder and got Trek into a study for a new medication to help address some of the symptoms.
Still, Sarah worried how Trek would react when he got to his new school on March 28 – especially since he frequently said at home that week, “No new school.”
But Colina Principal Kelley Brunner and her staff of teachers and other personnel – and a number of parents – took up where Esperanza left off.
“As we were walking up to the school, the parents welcomed us,” Sarah wrote Kyrene Superintendent Jan Vesely.
“Trek was melting down, because, you know, this was a deviation from his schedule,” she recalled.
Brunner and staffer Jodi Mills “welcomed Trek with open arms.”
“I distinctly remember Trek screaming and throwing his shoes,” Sarah told Vesely. “Jodi looked at me and said, ‘It’s okay; We’re used to this.’ That set my mommy nerves at ease.”
And she told Vesely, “You are truly blessed with an amazing staff.”
Vesely replied, “This is genuinely one of the best stories in my career.”
While Trek is settling into his new school, he and his Esperanza friends also had good news.
They’ll not be apart forever, after all.
Trek gets to go to the after-school Kids Club at Esperanza, where he can see his friends – and, just as importantly, they can see him.
And his mother will always remember the week it was as “a beautiful story of human kindness.”