NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Within minutes of the photo being posted to social media, it went viral. It shows two young boys, holding hands as they walk down the hallway of Susan Gray Head Start in Antioch.
If you like the picture, you'll love the backstory. "We had to tell you which child in the picture is visually impaired," said Kim Mountjoy, an MNPS Visual Learning Teacher.
Five-year-old Nathaniel, or Nate the Great as his teachers call him, is one half of the dynamic duo in the picture. Like the rest of his classmates, he's currently learning to read. What makes Nate different is how he's learning. In addition to vision impairment, Nate also has Autism. "Nate has been very hesitant to interact directly with peers," said Mrs. Mountjoy.
That combination has excluded the 5-year-old from a lot of opportunities. "He’s been turned down from more pre-schools and programs than I can count," said Stacy Cornwall, Nate's mother.
It's made Stacy terrified of her boy starting Kindergarten in the fall. "You want your child to grow and develop and hopefully become an independent adult," she said.
Which is why she enrolled Nate in Metro Nashville Public School's Extended Year Summer Program, which blends students with special needs with students their age who can help.
"The more diversity that you have in a setting, the more children are able to grow, learn from each other and understand that there’s much more that unites us than ever divides us," said Sharon Burgess, the Site Coordinator for the program.
On the first day of classes came a magical moment. "Hoosby just happened to be the child next to him," said Mountjoy.
Nate reached out a hand and a friendship with his deskmate Hoosby was formed. That gave Nate's vision teacher an idea.
"We told Nate, Hoosby’s going to help you find the door and get outside instead of a grown-up. And we just did it to see what happened," said Mountjoy.
What happened next made the teacher stop and take the picture. "Hoosby didn’t just take him through the door, he took him out to the playground and take him to toys and be ready to play with him," she said.
Nate's mother says the snapshot instantly became a family treasure.
"Obviously for Hoosby to be such a kind friend, and as a Mom, knowing that he has peers like that in the classroom, just gives me all the comfort, hope and joy," said Cornwall.
And it hasn't just been Hoosby. Other sweet classmates have dove in, headfirst into playing and putting Nate at ease. In just a few short weeks, not only has Nate made friends and bonded with his teachers. For the first time in his life, he's learning to communicate.
"Do you want more?" asked one of his teachers. "Want more," Nate replied.
On the last day of class, they held a celebration. Technically, it was for Nate's 5th birthday, but it was also a graduation of sorts. As Nate moves onto Kindergarten in a few weeks, his mother is hopeful.
"I don’t know what the coming years will look like for him. We don’t for any of our kiddos really, but it’s a glimpse into what he can experience in the classroom," said Cornwall. "Really that peers will be open to his differences."
She also hopes that everyone else who loves to look at this picture will recognize two helpers, that are helping us learn about compassion.
"Children don’t see the differences. Children are just children," said Burgess.
"Not labeling them based on a physical disability. I think that is, of course, something all adults should aspire to," said Cornwall.