TLC breaks ground for new school
Nearly $1 million has been raised for center,
which is expected to open in 2010
By ANTHONY DeMATTEO, St. Augustine Record

Neither Donna Fogle nor Paula Wilburn can talk about the Therapeutic Learning Center Charter School without tears filling their eyes.

Fogle's daughter, Kourtney Harmon, was an active toddler, normal in every ostensible way. Then at 18 months, she began falling. She was soon diagnosed with Batten disease, a fatal neurodegenerative disorder. Doctors told Fogle that Kourtney would likely die before her third birthday.

"She went from standing and saying things like 'hi' to a feeding tube six months later," Fogle said.

Six years later, Kourtney and her mother broke ground on a new building that will soon be home to the school that Fogle said helped save her child's life.

"It's just unbelievable what they do with these kids," Fogle said. "I want to shout it from the rooftops. They showed me all sorts of things. From the importance of stretching to the role something like lighting -- everything revolves around stimulation."

The first charter school in St. Johns County, the 23-year-old learning center teaches disabled children from birth to age 5, operating from the St. Johns County Health building. There are 12 students enrolled in the school, and a waiting list. Hopes are that its new home, which should be ready in about a year, will accommodate 60 children. So far, $906,850 has been raised for its construction. The goal is $1.2 million. The building will include Kourtney's Corner, a resource center for parents with disabled children.

At the ceremony, TLC Executive Director and founder Paulette Hudson hugged another charter school graduate, 9-year-old Keaton Wilburn, whose mother, Paula, wiped away a tear as he beamed a smile.

"If it weren't for TLC ... they gave us the foundation to build on to be where we are today," Paula Wilburn said.

Keaton attends Old Kings Elementary School.

Kourtney is now a first grader at Webster Elementary School.

"Who knew I was going to get that in my scrapbook?" Fogle said. "She's hardly ever at the doctor. The people at TLC taught me it's all about stimulation. She can't be over stimulated because of the seizure risk, so she will never see Disney World. But if she is too quiet, she will start to waste."

Fogle said she drove past the former TLC location at Old Moultrie Road for years, unaware it was there. Now she can't imagine life without it.

"I don't want any other mom to go through that unknown phase," Fogle said. "Everybody needs to know about this program."

Therapeutic Learning Center Charter School

Founded 23 years ago as first charter school in St. Johns County.

Current location -- St. Johns County Health complex, houses 12 students.

Future location --ARC complex off State Road 16, will accommodate 60 students.

Estimated cost of new building -- $1.2 million. Nearly $1 million raised thus far.

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