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Class of 2024: Whisking away limitations

As the school year draws to a close, seniors eagerly anticipate graduation. Among them, one student's journey stands out – Andrew Blumer. After six years of hard work, Andrew is graduating from Sun Valley High School's Transition To Adulthood (TTA). It prepares students with special needs for life beyond high school by providing activities tailored to their interests, skills and needs. 

Andrew, an autistic student, has a vibrant and outgoing personality. From the moment he met Principal Dr. Mike Harvey, the two hit it off instantly, forming a connection.

"Andrew's outgoing personality, love for sports and curiosity made it easy for us to connect. Having a son and daughter the same age as him allowed us to have even more in common," said Dr. Harvey. 

With the support of his parents and the school community, Andrew has had a fulfilling high school experience. He has embraced every opportunity to participate in Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes, school-wide projects, extracurricular activities and sports. At TTA, he gained many practical life skills, including household chores, financial management and essential workplace skills. 

"Doing chores helped me be more independent at home. Learning vocational skills has helped me be more confident. I've worked at Food Lion and Quincy's," said Andrew. "The most important things I have learned from TTA is how to be a great friend, cooking, measuring and current events." 

Andrew found a real passion for the CTE classes, especially those focused on cooking. From creating tasty dishes to mastering practical vocational skills, he's gained knowledge and abilities directly applicable to real-life situations. He has made chicken cacciatore, spaghetti, ravioli, pizza, grilled cheese and cookies. It's also something he enjoys doing at home with his parents. Whether perfecting a meal or grasping kitchen safety, Andrew's time in these classes has been as delicious as it has been educational.

"Cooking has helped me to look at recipes and follow the directions. My favorite foods to make are pasta, parfaits and cookies," said Andrew.

He's taken horticulture and fire safety classes. He and his classmates were also a part of building the school's sensory garden. 

"I was able to spray the fire hose; it was fun," said Andrew. "Helping with the garden, I learned about many plants and that they all need care - sunlight, water and soil."

Andrew also participated in the school's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC). This elective complemented his culinary interests, providing him with practical skills outside the kitchen. From mastering tie knots to understanding the importance of professional presentation, he acquired invaluable life skills. Through collaborative drills and exercises, he developed strong teamwork and leadership qualities crucial for success in school and beyond. 

Andrew is a valued member of the outdoor track team. Last year, his dedication and infectious enthusiasm earned him the Spartan Spirit Award, a well-deserved recognition of his outstanding ability to uplift and motivate his teammates. He's also taken part in the local and state Special Olympics. Outside of school, he practices Taekwondo but took this year off to focus on his senior year. 

"Sports influence my growth because I can improve with practice and work. I can do things I didn't think I could, like the backstroke and shotput," said Andrew.  

Rosa Babylon, the Exceptional Children's TTA teacher, enjoyed having Andrew in her classroom. 

"Andrew is a great kid who wears his entire heart on his sleeve. If he is happy, you'll know. If he is sad, you'll know. He is one of those raw and authentic people," said Babylon. "He's always trying to connect with people and tries to see others' perspectives." 

The Blumers appreciate that Andrew feels included in the school community. His parents spoke fondly about Andrew's achievements, such as being selected to play a prominent drumming role in the school's winter concert, attending football games and homecoming events, and even being part of the court and crowned king one year.

"We have been blessed to see people step up to be their best around Andrew. From the lady in the supermarket to Sun Valley students and staff to the people in our IEP meetings, they have embraced him," said Paul Blumer. 

The inclusivity Andrew's parents have seen him experience, Babylon said, comes directly from the school's administration. 

"They always make space for us in this building. We get invited to places, and the administration ensures we know about the happenings. It's very natural for the other teachers and student body to embrace our TTA students," said Babylon. 

Andrew is not slowing down after graduation. He plans to attend South Piedmont Community College's Compass Education. Once he completes it, he wants to join the Food Service Academy. His ambition is to pursue a career as a chef, particularly at one of his favorite restaurants, Olive Garden.

Andrew's reflection on his Sun Valley experience resonated with a simple truth, "I can! I can work, compete, make friends and keep a house. I can."