TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) – There’s a saying that goes, “I love you to the moon and back.” It’s something that the family, students, and staff of the Rise School in Tuscaloosa live by, everyday. Rise is a preschool environment for babies up to the age of five. Half of the students who attend the Rise School have disabilities. The campus is small, with less than 100 current students. And on Thursday evening, it got even smaller when 18 of those children graduated.
One of those children is Jonathan Lee. He is 6 year-old boy who loves music and dancing. He also has down’s syndrome. When Jonathan was just two years old, his family was facing a lot of frustration in finding a good preschool in their hometown of Huntsville. Jonathan’s mother, Amanda, explains that all of the preschools wanted to put the toddler in an infant class, because he was so far behind that he couldn’t even crawl. But the Lee family wanted their son to be around other children his own age so that he could learn and develop. That was when they paid a visit to the Rise School in Tuscaloosa. The Lee’s were so impressed, they decided to uproot the family and move to Tuscaloosa for the next four years.
But there was a catch. Jonathan’s father, Jerry, had a good job back in Huntsville, and not very many similar career opportunities in Tuscaloosa. The family had made the decision that they would always return to Huntsville, and so Jerry made the tough decision to keep his job in Huntsville.
However, Jerry didn’t want to be an absent father or leave Amanda to raise the children as a single parent during the week. Rise Director, Martha Cook, says Jerry and Jonathan have a bond. They are buddies, they are the boys of the house (the Lee’s also have an older daughter) and Jerry wanted to be there at night for his family. Jerry decided that he would commute from Tuscaloosa to Huntsville everyday for the next four years.
That’s exactly what he’s done. Luckily, Jerry’s work has been supportive. He makes the daily trek in a company vehicle. He has had to log every mile. That’s how he learned that he had travelled enough distance between Tuscaloosa and Huntsville, that he could have made it to the moon and at least part of the way back. It all happened just in time for Jonathan to graduate.
Each year, the Rise School puts on an elaborate program complete with music, dancing, and diplomas. The Lee family has about 30 relatives coming into town to watch Jonathan’s big day. His mother and father both tear up when they talk about Jonathan and how much he has achieved. Jerry explains, when he gets home from a long drive and long day at work, to see his son walk and call him “da” has made the drive much easier.