Max Mojica is starting kindergarten. This is something that hardly seemed possible just a few years ago, but, due to the interventions of the Early On Program through Bloomfield Hills Schools, Max made extensive progress. “There are SO many amazing people,” gushed parent Ericka Mojica, “I cannot say enough wonderful things about them. As soon as they sent me the email saying that he is not going to need anything going into kindergarten, and that he is ready for full-on kindergarten, I’m not going to lie, I got teary-eyed.”
Mojica noted that Max had been in previous programs as a toddler, but everyone was frustrated with the progress. “We were hitting the end of our rope,” explained Mojica. “Our Henry Ford speech pathologist recommended we look into Early On.”
Per Early On Michigan, the program offers intervention services for children from birth to three years of age who have developmental delay(s) and/or disabilities. Early On services children with delays in areas such as language, gross motor, and fine motor skills. Evaluations for eligibility are conducted by a certified teacher and specialists such as a speech therapist, occupational therapist, or physical therapist. As needed, interpreters are available as well. Eligible children ages zero to three are seen exclusively at their homes in their natural environment as required by the State of Michigan guidelines. Eligible children ages three to five are bused to the Early On classroom programs located in the Fox Hills Center of Bloomfield Hills Schools.
Specialists with the program connected with the Mojica family for an initial interview. “Basically they asked, ‘What did I notice? Does your son have so many words or less?’, said Mojica. “To be honest, I was concerned about the frustration we were having with home communication. When we came home from work we didn’t want to be frustrated because we couldn't figure out what he wanted. We were using Pinterest ideas and all the tools we could think of, but it wasn’t enough.”
Kimberly Bloch, BHS Early On/Early Intervention Teacher, was assigned to work with the Mojica family. Bloch has an elementary special education degree with early childhood certification, a masters in early childhood, plus cognitively impaired and autism certifications. This is Bloch’s 14th year being involved in Early On programs after several years of classroom teaching.
“I started because it worked in my schedule, but it just grabs you,” said Bloch. “It’s way different than being a classroom teacher. The boundaries are there, but you enter someone's home and you kick your shoes off and you love on their child. Many of our new mommas are pouring their hearts out to you. You have to be willing to accept them where they are at and accept their child. You kind of become part of the family.”
“Kim is like a miracle worker,” Mojica said. “Max was perfectly at ease with her. From doing the in-homes for the first couple of months it was completely a night and day difference. He was able to communicate more than just with hand gestures. He was trying to follow through with different sounds. The first time he came up to us and said, ‘I need help’ -- I don't know how to describe that feeling -- but to hear ‘I need help’ it was one of those things where your heart flutters. It was so amazing. And then hearing him say ‘I’m Maximus Mojica’ or ‘Hi, my name is Max,’ and it’s so clear and crisp, it’s just everything you could have ever imagined.”
Bloch explained that is the goal of the program. “We want to take them as far as they can and get them ready for preschool, working on that communication, following directions, and making them as independent as they can be in the home setting so that they can transition into school.”
From there, Max continued as part of the Early On preschool program, attending mornings as a three-year-old and afternoons as a four-year-old. “We went in there a few times before he went full fledged,” said Mojica. “He got to play in the Gross Motor area, and he LOVED gross motor. I cannot begin to describe the sheer joy he found in Gross Motor. He was just so happy, and then Kim said he was ready so we got him on the bus. He didn’t look back on the bus, no tears, nothing. He was ready. I was the one bawling as soon as the bus pulled away. I can honestly say that from starting with Kim to getting him on that bus and working also with Henry Ford, he says words now that I don't even think I said at that age.“
Children receive regular evaluations as part of the program and have written goals to meet. “That preschool classroom is a great first opportunity for school because of the low class size,” explained Bloch. “Many of our kids who have qualified for special education are not potty trained prior to the age of three because it’s just not a skill they have been able to grasp and they don’t have to be going into our classroom setting so it’s great for many reasons. I have one little boy who I’ve been working on with gross motor skills. He was significantly delayed and now he is walking, running, and climbing. But that’s the beauty of it. No one at age five is asking you ‘When did your kid walk?’ because nobody cares once your kid is walking. I went down a dark path with this one mom because she was so worried, but we kept boosting her up and supporting her, and the kid started walking! Now, he is doing great and ready to be decertified.”
The decertification, or moving on from the Early On program, also happened to Max. “When they told us that he was ready for kindergarten,” said Mojica, “part of me was beyond excited, and part of me thought, ‘I need you guys for the next 30 years!’ They have been a great support system. They truly hold a special place in our hearts. They have given us the best gift which is being able to communicate with Max. There are just not enough amazing things to say about them.”
Yet, Mojica says both their family and Max are excited for the next steps. “It’s just so exciting to see that growth and that excitement to learn. I hope he never loses it. We moved to Bloomfield Hills for this school system, and I can honestly say that it is the best move we ever made. It is phenomenal the experience we have had here. “
For more information about the Early On program and other special education programs at Bloomfield Hills Schools, see www.bloomfield.org/specialeducation.