When Salvador Amezcua enters a room, he brings a certain feeling with him.
At first you don’t know why, but you can’t help but smile. The more you’re around him, it’s understandable why he puts a grin on everyone’s face—his joy is infectious.
The 14-year-old at Dalton Middle has cerebral palsy—a condition that affects motor skills.
While Amezcua has orthopedic problems, he has no cognitive difficulties.
His teacher, Amy Lawton, says he’s as bright or brighter than most students.
“He takes the same tests the whole school takes,” Lawton said. “He has a regular schedule just like any other eighth grader.”
Lawton said not only can ‘Sal’ do math problems in his head, he is very observant and lets her know if something is wrong or out of place.
“If I forget something, he’ll tell me,” she said. “One time he corrected the date I had written down on a piece of paper. He just notices things.”
Since Amezcua cannot communicate with words, he has developed his own way to dictate what he wants to say. He will point with his tongue at items he either wants or wants to inform someone about. He also uses his tongue to answer “yes” or “no” questions. At times, he will either make small noises or widen his eyes to inform a choice he has made.
He also has a computer that helps him communicate with more complicated questions and answers. The computer hooks to Amezcua’s wheelchair and tracks the movement of his eyes. When he looks at an answer on the screen, the light bounces off his eyes and registers it.
To talk about people he knows, Amezcua sometimes uses facial expressions the person displays. To indicate he is speaking about his best friend Martin, Amezcua bites on his lower lip—a trait his friend has.
On a day when parapro Darcie Plavich was absent, Amezcua asked where she was by making a monkey face—a face that he and Plavich often make to each other.
“Sal loves his life,” Lawton said. “He knows who he is, and he’s OK with who he is. If he can’t do something, he’s not ashamed to ask for help.”
While it may take a while to understand what Sal is trying to say—Lawton has become very skilled at understanding what Amezcua is trying to tell her. She said he is persistent in getting his point across, but never gets mad or impatient.
While Lawton is a key contributor to Amezcua’s success, she said the real progress and glory goes to David Thomas, a paraprofessional that goes to classes with Amezcua. Thomas sits with Amezcua during class and takes notes for Amezcua to go over later.
“(Mr. Thomas) sets the bar high,” Lawton said. “These two could make me cry, their relationship is so great.”
“I don’t want accommodations for him,” Thomas said. “I don’t want him to be looked at as special. He’s just another eighth grader.”
While Plavich said Amezcua has a “wicked sense of humor,” he gets to business in the classroom. “He loves to laugh,” Plavich said, “but when he gets in a classroom, he’s serious.”
“He doesn’t have to work that hard to memorize things,” Thomas said. “He has a phenomenal mind; a photographic memory. I gather the info and he absorbs.”
Lawton, Thomas and Plavich all praise City Park, where Amezcua went to elementary school, and Dalton Middle for doing so well with Amezcua.
“There is no better place than Dalton Middle,” said Lawton. “They are accepting, people come in here to talk and communicate with my kids, and the adults are so supportive.”
“We try to treat him normally,” said Principal Brian Suits. “He had an instant impact on this school. His excitement feeds off onto us.”
Amezcua lives with his uncle, Roberto, his older sister Alyssa and twin brother David. Thomas said the two brothers are two peas in a pod.
“He’s a wonderful brother,” Thomas said of David.
“We’re best bros,” David said. “It makes me happy to see my brother happy.”
David said he and his brother will sit and play with ABC blocks. If Amezcua knocks them over, David will act like he’s mad and Amezcua will wail with laughter. The boys and their uncle will sit and watch TV or movies together — Amezcua’s favorite movie is Up because he has a love for balloons — and just randomly laughs for no reason.
“He’s always happy,” David said of his brother. “We have a special relationship.”
When Amezcua’s name is mentioned in the halls of his school, everyone smiles and usually has a story about him.
“There’s a hint of mischief there,” Suits said of his popular student. “He’s playful.”
One game Amezcua loves to play is “the ice cream game.” Plavich acts like she is eating an ice cream cone and hands it to Amezcua. She tells him only to have a little bit, but Amezcua acts like he devours the ice cream. Plavich stands there like she is shocked that he just ate all of her treat as Amezcua’s laughter fills the room.
“He’s a happy, people person,” Lawton said.
Salvador Amezcua is many things. He is a student, a brother, a friend. But even if you don’t know him or what he has done or accomplished, there is one thing that is obvious about him that that cannot be ignored: his infectious charisma.
By Lindsey Derrick, Dalton Public Schools Contributor