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First Published Saturday, 21 February 2009

By Seth Stratton
The Dispatch

Published: Friday, February 20, 2009 at 9:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 5:26 p.m.

SILVER VALLEY | Four days a week, Chad Norman arrives at Silver Valley Elementary School with a smile, eager to offer his help. And though his autism causes him to see and hear things in a different way, his extra ears and eyes are a big help to students, teachers and staff.

For the past two school years, Chad and his mother, Linda Norman, have been the most loyal – and often only – volunteers at the elementary school. Chad sorts papers, empties trash cans, provides the day’s lunch count to the cafeteria for a classroom and operates a stopwatch for a “math lab” program timing students on how fast they can finish arithmetic problems.

His latest project has been to code all the books by reading level and genre in Connie Collins’ fourth-grade classroom and Tammy Everhart’s fifth-grade classroom. Chad looks the books up online, then separates them into tubs so students can more easily find what they’re looking for. With his help, Everhart is able to spend more one-on-one time with students, which has translated to better scores on test days.

“Twenty-two to one is not a good ratio when you’re trying to help everybody,” Everhart said. “It’s a bonus to us. It frees up the (teacher’s assistants) to then work with the small groups, too.”

Born and raised in Davidson County, Chad, 23, graduated from South Davidson High School with an occupational diploma in 2003. When he was in kindergarten at Denton Elementary School, Beth Ligon, now a third-grade teacher at the school, could tell Chad was special. He learned the alphabet out of order, instead learning his consonants and vowels from watching “Wheel of Fortune,” and could subtract double-digit numbers from each other but couldn’t add one plus one. After just one week in class, he was diagnosed as being autistic.

Chad was placed in the school’s exceptional children’s program but excelled and was mainstreamed back into regular classrooms in fifth grade. He never failed any classes in high school, but he could not pass the end-of-grade tests and was put on the occupational prep career course. He thrived in high school, becoming friends with nearly everyone. He was voted “Most School Spirit” during the senior superlatives program.

Now, he’s known as Mr. Silver Valley.

“He’s had such a positive influence on every student in the school,” Everhart said.

He and his mother arrive about 10 each morning to Everhart’s classroom. Linda has a workspace, and Chad has his own desk he can retreat to if he becomes too stressed out or needs to get off his feet: He just had foot surgery Monday on a toe that was bothering him. They eat lunch at the school and stay until about 3 p.m. Linda helps grade papers, and Chad does whatever is asked of him, but he’ll speak up if there’s something he doesn’t think he can do.

Chad was a fixture at The Denton Orator for years where Linda worked as an editor. He logged more than 5,000 hours at the small weekly publication, folding papers, typing, taking photos and doing whatever else was needed. He even received recognition for his service by former Gov. Mike Easley a couple of years ago, but he said its just something that runs in his blood.

“My mom and my grandma taught me how to help other people,” Chad said.

Dot Bailey is Chad’s “mamaw” and an active member of the county’s senior community. She was crowned Ms. Senior Davidson County in 2000, and Chad rode with her in a parade. She and Chad spend time together cooking, and Chad helps his grandmother thread needles for the quilts she sews. Bailey sells quilts and donates proceeds to area charities and donated one to the Silver Valley Parent Teacher Organization’s fundraiser last year.

Each night, Chad and his grandmother call each other to talk about their days. Chad sometimes visits and volunteers with his grandmother and other past Ms. Senior Davidson County winners. Whenever they hold events, they make sure to invite “Prince Chad,” their affectionate title for him.

After Linda suffered a severe blood clot in her leg, which she passed through her heart in 2002, she was confined to her home to rest. She still suffers from some of the effects today and cannot lift or stoop but during her recovery at home, she became bored and depressed. While at home, Chad helps do all the heavy lifting and also assists teachers in bringing items from the parking lot to the classroom.

“Chad and I do everything together,” Linda said. “He’s a mama’s boy.”

A couple of years ago, her doctor suggested she volunteer at a school. Chad decided he wanted to help, too, but not at Denton Elementary or South Davidson Middle or High: He wanted to go somewhere he wasn’t known to challenge himself. He’s grown to know each child by name and roster number, and he’s even set up a MySpace.com Web page that he uses to communicate with students after school. He hates to see students not complete their homework and wants to see them all succeed.

Chad was a little nervous about volunteering when he first started last school year but quickly became comfortable with Everhart. He was unsure when last year’s principal left, and Kim Loflin was instituted as the new principal, but Loflin knew Chad during her days as the SDHS cheerleading coach. Now, he couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

“If I left here, those two right there would be sad people,” Chad said, pointing to Everhart and Stanley Bradley, the other fifth-grade teacher at Silver Valley.

Linda and her husband, Charles, a custodian at Davis-Townsend Elementary School, were not able to have any children after Chad, so the couple decided to adopt three more boys, Matt, Steven and Chris.

Linda and Chad are longtime supporters of the University of North Carolina athletics. They try to make it to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s women’s basketball tournament each season. Last year, as UNC was coming off the court after a win, Linda said Erlana Larkins, a standout player, saw Chad in the stands and blew him a kiss.

“We never let his autism keep him from trying anything,” Linda said. “We’re very proud parents … He just has a good heart.”

Seth Stratton can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 226, or seth.stratton@the-dispatch.com.

Source:   http://www.the-dispatch.com/article/20090220/articles/902200304&tc=yahoo

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