Thursday after lunch in Kathi Ross' fifth-grade class at Belleview Elementary School, the students were told, "Get out your social studies workbooks."
All did because Ross is not to be trifled with. Even Will Yeaman grabbed his workbook, although his workbook has the No. 3 on it, meaning third-grade level.
The class did the work and Will did his with special shadow teacher Gloria Helms at his side.
Then, Ross announced it was time to read aloud, and Will asked if he could be first. When you're supposed to be dead, there isn't time to wait. And nobody else in class minds if you are first.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Will sat on a carpet at the front of the class, with his best friend Katie Sutton next to him and his other best friend, A.J. Barnes, on the other side. He read beautifully, missing not a word, about the "Roaring Twenties." The words "Babe Ruth" and "jazz" floated in the sentences on the air. The last line echoed. "It's a great time to be young," Will read.
All days are great for a kid who has to relearn how to read, walk and write.
In mid-October, Will was an honor student at school. His only medical problem was diabetes. One day, his mother got up at 6 a.m. to get him ready for school, and he was in a coma.
"He stopped breathing at least twice," Glenda Yeaman said.
After teams of doctors couldn't figure out what happened, other than severe brain swelling, "We were told he was going to die," Jim Yeaman said.
But the Yeamans, who first took Will in at age 5 as a foster child and adopted him a year ago, refused to accept the prognosis. The teachers who had surrounded the hospital bed in prayer and whispered in his ear refused to accept it. The other kids refused to accept it, too.
Somehow, Will Yeaman breathed after the ventilator was taken off. Nobody knows what his ailment was or is, or what happened, or why, his parents said. But he has brain damage, his parents said, and his memory loss is severe.
Yet Will with the glasses and the smile refuses to stop relearning.
"I want to be as smart as I used to be," he said.
Katie and A.J. visited him at the rehabilitation center. Will managed to con A.J. into giving him his "Wheelies" sneakers with the little rollers on the bottom. Will, who was supposed to be dead, screamed down the hallway.
"I wanted Wheelies so bad, I talked him into it," Will admitted. His smile as he said it was the rascally smile of an 11-year-old who believes in living fast and hard.
Will is back to school. A couple of hours a day at first, in a wheel- chair, but now almost a full day with nothing helping him but grit.
He writes beautifully, even wrote an essay about his best friend, Katie, his family and his classmates that ended with, "They all done this to keep me alive and from dying."
The Yeamans have done therapeutic foster care -- for kids with severe needs -- for many years. More than 50 kids through the doors, love for all. Will is one of four they have adopted.
"Before this happened, he was so smart, brilliant even," Glenda Yeaman said.
The future is unclear, his parents said. There is no guarantee Will can recover what he lost or the potential that he had.
Yet, Will got off the bus Thursday after school and walked up that long driveway to his house. He tore inside and yelled out, "Report card!"
Will sat down next to his mother. The word "adopted" never came up. "Mom" and "Dad" and "son" rang out like sirens.
Will and his mom opened the envelope, and out popped the hope of us all.
"Three As, Two Bs and one C," Glenda Yeaman said with a trembling voice filled with love.
Will was reminded he will have to have a special shadow teacher, provided by the school district like he has now, in junior high school as he continues to relearn what was horribly taken from him. He stated, defiantly, "In college, I won't need a special teacher."