College life lessons

SEATTLE — When he was a toddler, doctors thought Vaughn Zormeir would never crawl, walk or talk.

His parents knew different.

Vaughn, now 17, is a junior at Glacier Peak High School and preparing for college with the help of a program for college-bound students with disabilities.
The program is designed to help students like Vaughn learn about college life during a 10-day stay on the University of Washington campus. While roughly 60 students applied, Vaughn was one of only 17 accepted.

During the program, he went to classes, ate at the dining hall and stayed in a dormitory. After what Vaughn has experienced in life, a stay away from home for so long was intimidating.

“Mainly, I had never been away from home,” Vaughn said. “Just being away was a new experience.”

Vaughn was born premature, weighing just 1 pound, 4 ounces. As an infant, he was diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a condition where the bones in his skull formed prematurely and took away the space and flexibility for his brain to grow into its natural shape, said Bonnie Zormeir, Vaughn’s mother.

“The chance of him being severely retarded was really great,” she said. “Needless to say, the doctors were quite surprised. I think he has been surprising them ever since.”

Twenty-three surgeries later, including three skull reconstructions, he is deemed a medical miracle, suffering only partial hearing loss, Bonnie Zormeir said.

“He’s our $2 million kid,” she said.

Bonnie Zormeir recalls Vaughn’s longest and most life-threatening surgery at age 7, when he quit breathing and was sent to intensive care.

“They let us go in to see him in the morning and told us he would not wake up and probably not acknowledge us,” Bonnie Zormeir said. “I started talking to him and rubbing his arm. He opened one eye and told me he wanted his socks and underwear.”

In a life revolving around surgery, Vaughn learned to just deal with it and get it over with.

“I’m usually treated as a normal individual, but I’ve still had struggles,” Vaughn said. “Because my disabilities are not visible, I have to remind people.”

During challenging times, Vaughn reminds himself of the advice his father, Bill, gave him as a child.

“Do something until you get good at it,” Vaughn said. “My dad always drilled in me that practice makes perfect.”

The program, called DO-IT Scholars Summer Study, wrapped up Sunday. (DO-IT stands for disabilities, opportunities, internetworking and technology.)

Participants live in university dorms and participate in academic classes in fields such as technology, science, engineering and mathematics.

Living in a dorm room and meeting new people was unusual for Vaughn, but the experience gave him a better idea of what to expect on his own.

Teens who participate in the program are enrolled for two summers, said Scott Bellman, program director. Those students are encouraged to come back for a third summer as interns.

The program began in 1993 and is funded by the state, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education and corporate donors.

According to Bonnie Zormeir, the program gives those with disabilities a learning experience they need.

“Vaughn has always been very bright, but these kids have to work so hard to keep up, let alone excel,” she said. “This helps them get the education they really want.”

Staff and participants stay connected beyond the program, Bellman said.

“It provides them a community of mentors and peers that they aren’t meeting anywhere else,” Bellman said.

Vaughn is undecided on a college but would like study science.

He plans to stay in touch with others from the program.

“This very much helped me,” Vaughn said. “I’ve always been the only one with a hearing disability until now.”

Lindsy Wheadon: 425-339-3453; lwheadon@heraldnet.com.

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