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More than 4,000 students will start classes at Lee University on Wednesday, but only one will be making school history.
Corey Moore, a 25-year-old with Down syndrome, is enrolled in two classes this semester, which he will audit -- or take without earning credits -- while learning with his typically developing peers. Lee administrators believe Moore is the first Down syndrome student to do so on their campus.
Sara Weir, vice president of advocacy for the National Down Syndrome Society, says there are about 250 programs across the country that focus on post-secondary education for students with intellectual disabilities.
"But what's great about Corey is he's going to be pursuing higher education in an inclusive environment. What Corey is doing is fantastic, he's breaking down some barriers," she says.
Weir estimates that 10 percent or less of the 400,000 people with Down syndrome in the nation advance to post-secondary opportunities.
Moore says he realizes he is breaking new ground -- "I think it's exciting" -- but most important, he says, is realizing his dream of going to college. The independence is vital to him.
Debbie Murray, vice president for academic affairs at Lee, says Moore will be enrolled in a Bible class and a freshman gateway class, both with permission of the professors who are allowing a special-audit participant. By volunteering this summer in the college's Leonard Center student food bank, Moore became comfortable with finding his way about campus.
"Giving Corey a taste of college life is what this is all about," Murray explains.
"Corey has always wanted to go to college," says his mother, Krisi Moore. "When he graduated from high school, he knew people went on to college and he thought he was, too. His brother and sister did, and he's never understood why he couldn't. He wanted the college experience."
Krisi and Dennis Moore have faced stiffer challenges while raising Corey, the oldest of their four children. The day after his birth, the Moores were told their son had Down syndrome, a diagnosis they were totally unprepared for since prenatal tests had shown no indication of a problem.
The syndrome, as defined by the National Association for Down Syndrome, is a genetic condition that causes delays in physical and intellectual development. Individuals with Down have 47 chromosomes instead of the usual 46. It is the most frequently occurring chromosomal disorder.
"That day, the pediatrician came in my room and told us we had a child who was probably never going to walk or talk," Krisi recalls. "I had a baby that I didn't know how to take care of. I was clueless, so I tried to learn as much as I could."
Her education began while her son was in the neonatal intensive care unit for 10 days following his birth.
"Corey had no sucking mechanism, it was hard for him to learn to nurse," his mother says. "I had to massage his throat and teach him. The hospital nurses wanted to give him formula; I was determined he was going to learn to nurse," which she says she accomplished after five days.
She enrolled Corey in Siskin Children's Institute at 6 weeks of age for physical therapy. He went there four days a week until age 3, when she enrolled him in a new special education program at Ooltewah Elementary School. They both went to the half-day class, where she says she volunteered "so I could learn as much as I could."
Her son had a series of ear infections before age 6, had his tonsils out, a hernia operation, then gamma globulin infusions to build his immunity system. While in middle school, he developed Atlantoaxial Instability, which is excessive movement at the junction of the C1 and C2 vertebrae -- also known as the Atlas and Axis -- which support the skull. Problems with them can lead to further neurological problems.
As committed as the Moores were that their son complete his education and graduate from high school, he was just as passionate about becoming a minister.
By the time Moore received a special education diploma from Central High School, he told his mother he wanted to be an evangelist and follow in the steps of his great-grandfather. The late Rev. Roddie C. Cook Sr. was a pastor for more than 40 years, first with the Church of God denomination before founding his own independent church, Voice of Faith.
"If you want to know anything about the Bible, call Corey," says his great-aunt, Rodena Maas. "He'll not only quote the Scripture, he'll tell you where it's found. It's unbelievable."
Moore says he wants to preach, like his great-grandfather, and "complete his ministry."
"Corey Moore is not only a fine young man, he is a pioneer," says Murray. "We are happy to be able to honor that drive by creating a specialized track, customized for him, so that Corey can push himself, learn more about his faith and be a part of the Lee University family."
Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.