Sydney Craven was supposed to die at two years of age, the doctors said. Instead, she just turned 13, and she is now reading classic literature, learning some Latin, and studying the history of ancient Greece.
In many respects, Sydney is just like other girls her age. She loves her pets, her family, chatting with her girlfriends, computer games, and more. For her 13th birthday, the family went bowling, where Sydney played from her wheelchair and did quite well. She also finally got a present that she has been dreaming about for years: two pets of her very own, little guinea pigs she named Jellybean and Lollypop. “I love holding them,” Sydney tells The New American magazine. “I have a camera under my bed to watch them.” Her mom, Dana, says the fuzzy critters are Sydney’s “little friends.” “She tries to care for them and hold them,” Dana explains.
In other respects, Sydney is quite different from other girls her age. For one, Sydney spends most of her day lying down in bed. Because of a genetic disorder known as spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA, her system of movement has all but disappeared. Basically, Sydney lacks a key protein, ultimately resulting in the death of crucial nerve cells in her spinal cord. By the time she was one year old, she could no longer swallow. There is no known cure as of yet, but the family still hopes that one day that will change, pointing to promising therapies currently in development. Today, Sydney even needs a machine to help her breathe. Her family, and her mom, Dana, in particular, help her do most everything else around the house.
When it comes to education, though, Sydney is flourishing with the help of her sharp mind, emerging technologies, and a K-12 online school known as FreedomProject Academy, or FPA. The innovative school, which has been in operation for about five years now and is growing fast, takes a different approach to education than do government schools, which Sydney tried once. Unlike the curriculum used in public schools, FPA emphasizes a classical education founded on Judeo-Christian values. Rather than trying to keep parents at bay, as the government education system often does, FPA works in partnership with parents to make sure every student is getting a top-notch education.
And unlike most children her age, thanks to FPA, Sydney loves school. “It’s good,” she told The New American in a Skype interview about school, typing out her responses with the help of her specialized computer system. Her favorite subject is English, because “I’m good at it,” she says, breathing with help from a rather loud machine in the background. English homework is also the quickest to complete, she adds. Right now, her class is close to finishing the book Princess and the Goblin, which Sydney said she enjoyed, too. She does all of her homework on the computer, and her teachers and friends send her messages often. “FPA is good for kids like me who are disabled because they can just go to class on the computer,” she says.