The Courier News

March 26, 2007

By Brian Loeb

Last October, 12-year-old Carlos Delgado was in Rebecca Nocchi's special education class at Ridge Circle Elementary School in Streamwood. Nocchi was busy with her other students, but her assistant, Sandy Rodriguez, was watching Delgado.

Rodriguez saw Delgado's lips turn maroon, his face turn white and his forehead pour out sweat. When Delgado arrived at the hospital, doctors discovered he had a collapsed lung due to pneumonia.

During Delgado's three-and-a-half month stay in Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, and during the following two months before he returned to school Mar. 1, he stayed on top of his studies through School District U-46's Home Hospital Instruction program.

To fulfill the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, U-46 provides at-home or in-hospital tutoring for any student kept out of school for at least two weeks because of a health problem.

Everyday since early December, Delgado met with Brian Samuelson, 24, of Streamwood for a two-hour tutoring session. For the first month, Samuelson came to the hospital, and after Delgado returned home Jan. 29, Samuelson did the tutoring in-home in Elgin.

“What's 10 girls times 10 girls?” Samuelson asked Delgado during their Feb. 9 session. Delgado knew the answer: 100 girls. “You've got to put everything in that context,” Samuelson said.

Each week Samuelson goes to the students' schools and meets with their teachers to review what their classmates are learning and pick up materials. How they learn is up to Samuelson, and he said most of his methods come from the relationships he builds with his students.

For Delgado, that meant a lot about girls and baseball. “He'll write about the Cubs till Kingdom come,” Samuelson said. “Unfortunately I'm a Sox fan, so we don't see eye to eye.”

Pneumonia is manageable with exercise for most kids Delgado's age, but Delgado has been wheelchair-bound his whole life, the result of a birth defect called spina bifida, which results in the incorrect development of the neural tube and spine. So last fall Delgado's wheelchair became home to a ventilator, and Delgado got a new friend: David Armstrong, a 26-year veteran of the nursing profession, who spends eight hours a day, five days a week with Delgado.

In any given week there are 25-30 students in the Home Hospital Instruction program, five or six of whom are out of school for the entire year. The district employs two tutors full time but hires the rest – about two dozen of them – on a part-time basis, according to Donna Taylor, who oversees the program as the district's supervisor of health services.

Samuelson is one of the district's part-time tutors. He previously worked for U-46 as a substitute teacher and as a drivers' education instructor until last September, when he saw an ad in the newspaper for the tutoring program. Samuelson's goal was to be a high school teacher, and he thought the tutoring could help him. “The more experience you get, the more marketable you are,” he said.

Delgado was Samuelson's first special education student. At the Feb. 12 session, Delgado was supposed to learn about Rosa Parks. Delgado struggled to get through full paragraphs of a short biography, so Samuelson ended up reading most of the material to him.

Delgado's learning difficulties were only part of Samuelson's challenge. “I'm tired of being in this house and the hospital. I can't concentrate.” Delgado told Samuelson during their Feb. 20 session. Delgado was speaking of his houseguests: his mother, his father, his grandfather, his 4-year-old brother, his 6-year-old sister and Armstrong.

During Samuelson's Feb. 16 trip to Ridge Circle , he met with the school's principal, Irma Bates. Bates predicted Delgado would excel when he returned to class. Delgado is “very capable, very confident, great spirit, a lot of resiliency,” she said.

“He's a Cubs fan,” Samuelson responded. “He's used to that.”

On Mar. 1, Delgado and Armstrong rode the bus to Ridge Circle . Delgado's mother, Cecilia, followed the bus in her car to say a final goodbye at the school.

As students in the bilingual class – a cluster of which breaks off for special needs students – swarmed her son to welcome him back, Cecilia could not contain her emotion. She hugged Rodriguez, the teaching assistant, and cried. “He's so happy,” she said. Then she wondered what she would do without her son at home. “I have a lot of people in the house, and now, only me,” she said.

The day of Delgado's return to school, Samuelson drove to Chicago to interview for a full-time teaching position in Florida . The interview went well, and Samuelson signed a contract that guarantees him a position as a high school English teacher in Ft. Lauderdale, where he will use the most important skill he said he gained as a tutor - patience.