Every Sunday afternoon, 7-year-old Sasha Patrick of Hilton Head Island climbs onto a bus and takes a four-and-a-half-hour drive to Spartanburg, where he spends the next five days.
The son of state Rep. Andy Patrick and his wife, Amee, Sasha attends the SC School for the Deaf and the Blind. Sasha was born bilaterally deaf. He received a cochlear implant in 2010.
After spending a great deal of time working with the Beaufort County School District to come up with a plan for Sasha's education, the Patricks decided the local schools would not be the best option for their son.
"The last thing that we wanted was for him to go through life just sort of getting by," Andy said. "Our fear was that because he seemed to us, based on everything we knew, to be such a bright kid, that he would probably end up getting lost in a system that couldn't focus the full attention that it needed to to him and what his needs were."
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A friend in Washington, D.C., told the Patricks about the upstate school, and they checked it out. Sasha began attending the school in August 2010.
His father said Sasha has come a long way since. When Sasha started at the school, he didn't know any sign language. Now he is fluent in sign. Andy said he sees improvement every Friday, when Sasha returns home for the weekends.
The Patricks have learned to celebrate the simple things in life. Recently, Andy sneezed. It might not seem like a big deal. But, despite Andy having his back turned to his son, Sasha said "bless you." This typical response was actually a major step.
"He not only heard me; he knew what I had done, and he provided the proper response," Andy said.
And a couple of months ago, when Sasha was cleaning his room, he started singing the cleanup song that his mother has always sung with the children during cleanup time.
"They've done so much in such a short period of time in giving him something that he never had," Andy said about the school staff. "He didn't have any language skills at all when we adopted him."
Sasha and his brother, Vlademir, were both adopted from Russia in 2009.
The SC School for the Deaf and the Blind is the only school in South Carolina that specializes in teaching deaf and blind children. Although the school is in Spartanburg, it serves students across the state through various programs.
According to the school's director of public relations, Katie Rice, the school served 1,338 students last school year.
Of those, 307 were served on campus, and the remaining were served through outreach programs offered around the state.
Sasha is in the school's dual language program, which uses sign language and auditory skills to help him communicate. In addition to learning sign, Sasha is learning how to listen with his cochlear implant.
The school's president, Maggie Park, said they launched the dual language program last year with one class. They now have three classes.
"Parents of children like Sasha, who have the cochlear implant ... really want them to learn to speak and to learn to use the auditory skills that they have so they learn how to discriminate between different words and sounds," Park said.
She said in the dual language program, the teachers sometimes just use sign language with the students. Other times they just use voice. And sometimes they use what she called "the sandwich technique," where they say the word and then sign it.
During the school week, Sasha stays in a dorm with a group of other boys his age. He goes to school, studies and has free time to play.
"It's like a family away from his family," Andy said. "And I've just been really impressed with what they do. ... They provide such a great environment at that school, and they care so much for all of these kids."