ECW Kindergartner finds family at school: Staff answers call after loss of father figure, major surgery

Published 12:20 am Wednesday, May 2, 2018

LAPLACE — Marked by intensive surgery and the loss of a loved one, a local family’s harrowing year became a little warmer with a loving embrace from Emily C. Watkins Elementary faculty and staff.

When 6-year-old Preston Henyard first met with ECW teachers last summer, Stacy Draten was hopeful she’d found a caring environment to address her grandson’s special needs.

Typically unsettled in class and resistant to change, Preston needed the support of a village to navigate the transition to kindergarten.

Support became much more vital in September, when his family was struck with two devastating diagnoses.

Preston learned he would need surgery to repair a hole in his heart and damage to his valves. At the same time, his grandfather, Troy Draten Sr., was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia.

Kindergarten student Preston Henyard, above, gets a hug from grandmother Stacy Draten, something the Emily C. Watkins student has certainly come to count on.

Teachers Joy Landry, Kristine Jerry, Pamela Noah and Venus Simms, nurse Cynthia Blouin and principal Antoinette Robinet were among those who jumped into action, preparing Preston for the physical and mental challenges that would follow.

Landry and Jerry threw a heart party for Preston’s class to lessen his fear of the impending surgery. During the five-hour procedure, Draten said staff members were waiting near the phone for updates.

With Troy Sr. unable to work while undergoing chemo, the family hit financial hardships that were, fortunately, lessened by a surprise Christmas drive that provided Draten’s six grandchildren with toys and food.

Everything was looking up as instructors from Milesville provided homebound services to keep Preston caught up with schoolwork during his medical absence.

Tragedy struck again last month, when Troy Sr., now cancer-free, unexpectedly passed away because of liver and kidney failure due to chemo complications.

Preston’s grandfather, Troy Draten Sr., passed away unexpectedly last month, and the ECW community attended his services. Stacy Draten said her husband was the best grandfather anyone could ask for.

Once again, Preston’s school family rallied in support, attending the funeral and consoling him through grief-driven classroom meltdowns.

“I’m telling you, Emily C. Watkins has the best principal and the greatest teachers,” Draten said, tearfully. “They were here for us through everything. They came and viewed my husband at the funeral. That’s not an obligation. It blessed me so much to see that.”

Jerry said teachers must adapt to all curveballs to ensure every child gets an equal shot at a quality education.

Preston Henyard, 6, is pictured recovering from a major heart surgery in December 2017.

“When Preston was out for surgery, we had processes in place to make sure he didn’t fall behind,” Jerry said. “As a team, [Draten] supports and informs us, and it’s our responsibility to support her and Preston.”

Robinet said ECW’s teachers, social workers, counselors and psychologists work as a team to address children’s needs on a case-by-case basis.

“If school and home don’t work together, the kids are not going to be nearly as successful as they could be,” Robinette said. “We pride ourselves on trying to address the whole child.”