Little Red School House provides families hope

Megan Harrell has worked in a bakery, tutored a boy learning English, and helped care for the babies of teen parents.

“She is a fiercely independent 19-year-old,” said Katie Harrell, Megan’s mother. The Snohomish woman said her daughter “knows what she wants out of life.”

One of Megan Harrell’s hopes is to work with children through Little Red School House. That’s where her family found help when she was tiny.

Before Megan was born, her parents learned she had Down syndrome. They were unsure where to turn, but research led them to Little Red School House. Now based in Everett, the nonprofit agency helps infants and children up to age 3 who have developmental disabilities or delays.

By 3 weeks old, Megan was going to Little Red School House. Katie and Keith Harrell joined a parent group there.

“It was just a godsend for us. It’s kind of a bridge into the school system. Almost more for the parents than for the kids, you get support from other families,” Katie Harrell said.

On Saturday, Little Red School House will hold its third annual family reunion, welcoming people whose histories with the organization go back decades. The free event will be from noon to 3 p.m. at the Mukilteo Family YMCA. Volunteers from Sno-Isle Libraries and the Snohomish County Public Utility District will be there helping as part of United Way of Snohomish County’s Day of Caring.

“We really wanted to connect with alumni families,” said Terry Clark, executive director of Little Red School House, Inc.

Betty Scullywest, of Bothell, said she made lifelong friends through Little Red Schoolhouse. Her son Mark, 23, also has Down syndrome. When he was diagnosed shortly after birth, Scullywest was overwhelmed.

“You’re scared. You’re grieving for the child you didn’t have. Little Red was great,” Scullywest said. Instead of dwelling on what a child may not be able to do, she said, “they’re focusing on everything your child can do.” Mark Scullywest now has two jobs. He works two nights a week as a greeter at a Red Robin restaurant, and once a week at a Lynnwood furniture store.

Little Red School House was founded in 1963 by parents and the South Snohomish County Exchange Club. With public schools now serving special-needs students from preschool up to age 21, Little Red School House today specializes in babies and toddlers.

Its methods have changed. While most programs were once at Little Red School House sites, the agency now has 36 professionals — occupational and physical therapists, speech pathologists, nurses and others — working with children mostly through home visits.

Clark said research shows that coaching parents at home is more effective than a class setting.

Jim Russell said that above all, Little Red School House offers hope. His 19-year-old son Brian, a Kamiak High School student, has Down syndrome. Along with Keith Harrell and others, Jim Russell is on the agency’s board of trustees.

“When you’re a parent, you just don’t know the potential,” he said. “You get plugged in with parents and Little Red School House therapists. As time goes on, you have a lot more hope.”

Brian Russell was on Kamiak’s swim team, is involved in Special Olympics, and goes hiking and surf kayaking with his family.

“You hope your child will have opportunities like other children,” Russell said.

Since graduating from Glacier Peak High School, Megan Harrell has embraced opportunities. Katie Harrell said her daughter loves her current job, working with the babies of students at AIM High School, the Snohomish district’s alternative school. Megan’s transition program through the district shares a campus with AIM.

It’s been a quarter-century since Anita and Bob Stuart turned to Little Red School House. Their 25-year-old son, Ian, was born with Trisomy 9p, a genetic disorder somewhat like Down syndrome. “He started services when he was 8 weeks old. I’ve been involved ever since,” said Anita Stuart, of Edmonds.

With Little Red School House’s help, she watched her boy learn to balance and to roll over. “All miracles,” Stuart said. She counts as friends the parents she bonded with 25 years ago through Little Red School House.

“What we learned was ultimately more than what Ian learned — the camaraderie, 100 percent acceptance and positive thinking,” Stuart said. “They understood your tears and they understood your questions. They got it.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Little Red reunion

A reunion of all families helped by Little Red School House is scheduled for noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Mukilteo Family YMCA, 10601 47th Pl. W., Mukilteo.

Little Red School House serves children, birth to age 3, with developmental delays or disabilities. The free reunion includes pizza, carnival games, swimming and a chance to tour a fire engine.

To R.S.V.P., call 425-353-5656.

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