Six years ago, Allan and Wonmee Kim decided to leave Korea and move to Virginia. They already owned a house in McLean, and knew that they liked the area, but they had two far more important reasons for relocating — their sons, Dylan and Tyler, both of whom are autistic.
"Basically, the services for autism are not that good in Korea," said Allan Kim.
The Kims wanted to make sure that they lived in an area where their children would receive the best education and care possible. They happened to fall in the Franklin Sherman Elementary School district, a stroke of fate that both Allan and Wonmee Kim still refer to as "one of the luckiest things that has ever happened to us."
"They are just very supportive of kids with disabilities," said Allan Kim of the school.
Dylan, 11, and Tyler, 10, started at Franklin Sherman when they were 6 and 5.
"We've been going there since kindergarten," said Tyler, who just finished the fourth grade. "I like the teachers, the parents, the students, and all of that stuff."
TYLER KIM is a living testament to the power of a positive and supportive learning environment. Two weeks ago, he decided to cap off his fourth grade experience by running for vice president in the Student Council Association (SCA) election. With his brother as his "campaign manager," Tyler turned in an oath of commitment, hung up promotional posters and gave a speech.
On June 16, which is coincidentally his mother's birthday, students submitted their votes via the school's in-house computer system, and Tyler emerged as the winning candidate for vice president.
Franklin Sherman principal Marty Smith said that as far as he knows, this is the first time that a student with autism has taken a position on the SCA.
"The Kim children are wonderful students, and they're just examples of every student that we have here at Franklin Sherman," said Smith. "We don't look at any students differently, we think of them all as part of what we like to call the Franklin Sherman family, and we treat all students the same way."
Smith said that currently there are approximately seven students with autism at Franklin Sherman, as well as 12 students in the school's special pre-school autism program.
"What we strongly work toward, is including our students with disabilities within the general population as much as possible, so there's just a seamless interface there," said Smith.
Franklin Sherman Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president Sophia Bruner said that Tyler and Dylan have "been an inspiration to all of our kids."
"They are wonderful boys, and everybody in the school adores them," said Bruner.
ALLAN KIM said he was definitely taken by surprise when his youngest son informed him that he would be running for SCA vice president.
"I kept telling him that it would be a lot of responsibility, and that it's not just a popularity contest," said Allan Kim. "But I also think that it will be good for him because sometimes he has trouble remembering his responsibilities."
According to Smith, those responsibilities range from organizing various school spirit days, to coming up with ideas for community service drives.
"We're trying to instill a sense of responsibility and civic duty and community service," said Smith.
Tyler Kim said that he wanted to become a member of the SCA "so teachers and students get better relationships." Like all the other candidates, he wrote and memorized a speech, which was videotaped in the school library and then shown to the student body on election day.
"I promised to work hard and to be dedicated to the school and the local community," said Tyler. "I have lots of good ideas that we can all enjoy."
Dylan showed brotherly support by helping to hang Tyler's campaign posters, by telling classmates to vote for Tyler, and by listening as Tyler memorized and practiced his speech. In fact, Dylan is already dreaming of grander aspirations for his brother.
"Next year he is going to run for president," he said.