Farmville boy defies medical odds, makes kindergarten debut

Virtual learning has taken on a new meaning at H.B. Sugg Elementary School where one student is on wheels this school year.
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 8:44 PM EST
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PITT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - Virtual learning has taken on a new meaning at H.B. Sugg Elementary School where one student is on wheels this school year.

EJ Lyles made his kindergarten debut using an innovative piece of technology: a VGO robot.

Social and emotional learning is an important skill in early education. This week, Lyle’s classmates are learning about emotions and feeling words.

Happiness and excitement were the dominating emotions and feelings shared by his new friends when Lyles dialed into his classroom.

“Having EJ return and him coming home, we knew that at Sugg/Bundy we needed to teach and take care of and love on him,” principal Ali Setser said.

In October, WITN first told Lyles’s story of a long road to recovery.

He underwent a series of traumas that left him hospitalized at Duke University Hospital.

Lyles had just been involved in a crash that seriously hurt his mom when he began exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Then, Lyles was diagnosed with a MRSA infection that caused several of his organs to begin failing.

Fast forward three months and Lyles’ heart and kidney functions are approaching normal levels.

“I do appreciate how willing and open the school has been just to really get him back on track,” Sophia Lyles, EJ Lyles’ mom said.

Setser reached out to Karen Harrington, Pitt County Schools director of student services, for options and landed on the VGO robot.

EJ Lyles is able to see, hear, and interact with his classmates from the safety of his home.

The robot wears an #EJStrong t-shirt, something that one donor gifted all 800 students of the H.B. Sugg and Sam D. Bundy school.

Setser inducted the shirt into the school’s spirit day collection, making it uniform-approved on the special dress-down days.

While his classmates admired his shirt, EJ Lyles admired their masks.

“He was really excited about the one kid with the Spiderman mask,” Sophia Lyles said. “It really did enough for him because he’s been jumping off the walls ever since.”

At home, EJ Lyles has made great strides in his recovery, but he doesn’t get to spend much time with other children his age.

“I think it’s important that he’s around kids his age and he realizes, ‘Hey, I’ve been through this and I’ve made it through it and now I’m here.’ That’s a way for him to share what he’s been through and share that he’s just like anybody else,” Olivia Haley, EJ Lyles’ kindergarten teacher said.

Haley has worked with the Lyles family to craft a schedule that includes Lyles in group learning while working around his medical schedule.

Lyles completed a math lesson Wednesday in greater than and less than numbers. He was able to participate with a small group of students to identify the correct answers.

And when Lyles was ready, he would light up his robot to signal his hand being raised.

EJ Lyles will continue to be monitored by a team of doctors, but when he is able to make an in-person debut at school, the H.B. Sugg family is ready to embrace him.

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