Ozarks Life: Sam and Kaila

This student and paraprofessional in the Willard School District share a unique bond.
Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 8:20 AM CDT
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GREENE COUNTY, Mo. (KY3) - Willard Orchard Hills Elementary is home to a dynamic duo.

“It has been an absolute, perfect match,” school principal Luciana Brown said.

Paraprofessional Kaila DeJonge is a former Willard student. Sam Matson is a current Willard first grader.

Together they are a common sight.

“She helps out on things to make it easier for me,” Sam said.

Easy is something young Sam doesn’t know much about.

“He doesn’t complain,” Sam’s mother, Jolene Matson, said. “He’s been through a lot.”

Jolene is just a few doors down from Sam, teaching art. School is a nice distraction for both of them.

“He went to the emergency room three-and-a-half years ago,” Jolene said. “We found out he had a brain tumor. And it was brain cancer.”

Over agonizing months, surgeries and chemo restored Sam’s health. The same can’t be said for his eyesight.

“Even if I can’t see with one eye,” Sam said, “(the other) eye works. I could still it could still go around.”

And so Kaila sits with him throughout the day. She makes sure Sam can see his assignments.

“He just tells me, ‘hey, I need this’ or ‘hey, I don’t need this, and he can participate right with the class,” Kaila said. “He’s super bright. His reading is amazing. He sometimes is way better at math than I am, which is awesome.”

Kaila always wanted to be a teacher.

“My family can tell you,” Kaila said, “I would line up all of my dolls and my stuffed animals, and I would be the teacher, and I would do this for hours.”

Like Sam, Kaila also had sight taken from her at a young age.

“Got in a car accident back in ‘99,” Kaila said. “I was six months old and a drunk driver, he still never been caught, killed my middle sister. And my other sister. She’s fine. But it’s caused me some brain trauma.”

Kaila, like Sam, had numerous surgeries. And Kaila, like Sam, is focused on the future, not the past.

“I focus on what we can do versus what we can’t do,” Kaila said. “And that’s just how I was raised. We are able to do the same things that everybody else says, we can roller skate, or we can ride a bike. We can never drive a car, but that’s okay!”

“I am so proud of these two,” Brown said, “because every day they choose to come and be brave and courageous, and do what they can and learn from what’s difficult and overcome it.”

Kaila says another unique thing about the pair is her dominant eye is her left, and Sam’s is his right. She only hopes she can be as good as the two paras she had in school.

As for Sam, he just had a successful follow-up appointment at St. Jude earlier this month.

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