Pueblo teen with health woes thriving in online school

Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 10:31 AM
Sally Padilla, left, works on her laptop at home while Isabella, 6, one of the younger members of the Padilla household, watches in Pueblo on Feb. 1. Sally, 16, is a student of Pikes Peak Online School, a virtual institution that provides individualized online education to young Coloradans for whom a traditional public classroom isn’t a good fit.

PUEBLO (AP) – Sally Padilla’s fingers flew across the keyboard of the Dell laptop.

With deliberate action, but very little discussion, the Pueblo girl logged on to her user account, scrolled through a list of her academic courses and popped open a virtual classroom. There, in the upper left-hand corner, was a video link to her teacher. Sally also had access to her scholastic notes, supplemental learning materials and chats with her classmates, who were scattered across the state.

She did all this without leaving her busy home. Sally, 16, is a student of Pikes Peak Online School, a virtual institution that provides individualized online education to young Coloradans for whom a traditional public classroom isn’t a good fit. The institution partners with industry leader K12 to provide “interactivity to engage students’ brains and help develop curiosity, subject mastery and a passion for learning,” according to the Pikes Peak Online website.

The sophomore is enrolled in classes in mathematics, English, science, criminal justice and life skills, and is active in both student government and the school’s yearbook club. She maintains an A/B average and dreams of heading to college, where she thinks she may want to study medicine.

And while there’s nothing particularly remarkable about a teen with a talent for technology, Sally’s accomplishments are nothing short of remarkable when you consider that she wasn’t expected to live much longer than 24 hours after birth.

“Sally will beat the odds,” her mother, Dalila Padilla, said. “Sally’s always hit everything on the list. Out of all my kids at home right now, you give her the extra resistance and she’ll still be pulling.”

Piece of her heartBefore Sally was born, Padilla was warned that the child probably wouldn’t survive longer than one day.

That dire prognosis turned out wrong, but the infant, who was born one month premature, did have a hole in her heart called congenital malformation. She has also been diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a form of high blood pressure that affects the arteries in the lungs and right side of the heart; atrioventricular block and a speech-sound condition called a phonological disorder.

In her short life, she has undergone a half-dozen open heart surgeries, the earliest at 9 months, and she has both a pacemaker and prosthetic valves in her heart.

The repetitive operations left Sally with permanent curvature of her spine; but, like the rest of her barrage of medical issues, the willowy, petite teen doesn’t let that slow her down. Rather, she talks animatedly about going to school-sponsored skating parties and social gatherings, and grins as she explains why science is her favorite area of study. (“It tells you a lot about, like, the world and stuff.”)

Where Sally was slowed down by her health problems was in the traditional classroom.

“She got booted out of a lot of the schools because she was too sick,” Dalila Padilla said.

Add to that the possibility of bullying and contagious illness, and even being in a school building posed long-term threats to Sally’s health.

“If you bump Sally in the wrong place, you can stop her heart,” her mother said. “She’s a high risk for (a traditional) school.”

The virtual solutionSally matriculated into Colorado Preparatory Academy, a sister virtual institution to Pikes Peak Online, in 2014. This year she made the jump to Pikes Peak. All of her academic materials, from her laptop and textbooks to her workbooks and weekly one-on-one sessions with a mentor, are provided by the institution itself, Dalila Padilla said.

The curriculum includes regular “blended” sessions, where students can meet with teachers at coffee shops or the local YMCA for enrichment classes and support.

“If you go to the blended, they’ll help you with any assignments you need help on,” Sally enthusiastically reported. “Colorado Prep and Pikes Peak have so much to offer students.”

And because the sessions are recorded, Sally can attend school anytime and anywhere she can get internet access, Dalila Padilla said.

“She can be in the hospital and have her computer and go to class,” Dalila Padilla said. “Anything she needs through school is provided for her.”

That has allowed an enthusiastic student who once battled to maintain both her academics and her health to get caught up and excel. And because the curriculum is written and managed by education professionals, it means Sally is studying material that is on par with her peers elsewhere, her mother said.

“They’re working out of the same kind of books as public schools,” Dalila Padilla said. “They send everything that’s required.

“This school has so much to offer. We would never change it.”