By Scott Curtis
SERMC Public Affairs
Navy Chief Petty Officer Devin Simpson had been the Volunteer Coordinator at Southeast Regional Maintenance Center (SERMC) for only a few days when one of his neighbors in the community just happened to briefly mention the massive task facing her professionally.
Less than a week later, Simpson and 20 Sailors from SERMC arrived at Oak Hill Academy to help Angela Bradberry, a board-certified behavior analyst at Oak Hill, put the finishing touches inside the classrooms and general clean-up around the campus prior to the new student body orientation Aug. 12.
Oak Hill spent the entire summer converting from a "standard" elementary school to one whose sole focus is pre-K to 5th grade students with moderate to severe autism. Bradberry said the goal of the change is to give parents a desirable option to private schools and the community at-large a different perception of neighborhood schools.
When classes officially start on Aug. 15, the school will have about 100 students ranging across the entire autism spectrum, and 10 teachers who all possess a special certification to work with autistic children.
Oak Hill Principal Stephanie Smith said, "When I started at Oak Hill in June, it was just myself and four other women. We were all new, and at about the same time 10 semi-trucks pulled up packed with boxes. Our entire cafeteria was full of materials and equipment that needed to be sorted, organized, assembled and distributed."
"Kids with special needs require more than a desk and chair, there's an enormous amount of equipment required, and all of that equipment needs to be unpacked and assembled. This takes so much pressure off of us," Bradberry said.
"Having Devin as a neighbor, this is just incredible," said Bradberry. "It shows that our armed forces not only keep us safe when they deploy overseas, but they really care about their communities when they return home. There was no way we could complete everything we did without the help from (SERMC) Sailors."
Simpson echoed, "The teachers and staff have been very supportive. We all came out here today expecting to work up a sweat, but we have felt so appreciated by the staff and know the hard work we accomplish here today will benefit young children in our community for months."
Engineman 1st Class Robin Mosely was excited to help get Oak Hill ready for the new students.
"I have a cousin with Asperger's Syndrome, and he graduated high school last year, so I know how much of an impact a school like this can have on a special needs child," Mosely said. "Hopefully, all of the students here will be able to graduate high school like the rest of their peers."
"This has been a huge relief for us and for the parents. It's so much nicer to show people exactly what the classroom will look like, instead of asking them to imagine what we will have," Smith said.
"As soon as I found out I could volunteer to help children, I wanted to help. I love kids and I know we're making a huge impact here. This is truly an exceptional opportunity for us and for the kids who will be here in less than two weeks," said Machinist's Mate 1st Class Brian Hill.
"There is a depth of appreciation that is, and will be, felt for their hard work today," Smith said. "They are only giving up one day, but they probably don't realize the impact it has for the 100 special needs students and 40 adults. It's amazing to me."