The Sky Is the Limit
Originally from Plainfield, Connecticut, James and Rebecca Theriaque wanted their son, James, to have opportunities they never had.
“We both come from struggling families. After we took a tour of Milton Hershey School, we both looked at each other and thought, ‘Where would our lives be today if we had both been given this kind of opportunity?’” Rebecca said. “That really hit home. We could have only dreamt of having access to the kind of tools MHS provides.”
While the opportunities and resources impressed the Theriaques, the decision to send their son more than 300 miles away was difficult.
“It was a team decision, and it was the hardest decision we’ve ever made in our lives,” Rebecca shared. “It took a lot of research and soul-searching to make the decision to sacrifice our own personal comfort to make sure our kid had the opportunity to have any sort of dream he wanted.”
For Rebecca, enrolling her son at MHS also gave her a sense of peace after managing various doctors’ appointments and treatments since James was born.
“I have terminal cancer, so James has spent a lot of his childhood in and out of doctors’ offices. Since making the decision to send him to MHS, I can have some peace that no matter what happens to my health, my son doesn’t have to go through that journey with me,” she said. “I know he’ll do well and excel, and I don’t have to worry that I’ll leave my child without anything.”
James enrolled at MHS as a third-grader. While the Theriaques experienced their share of homesickness, both parents worked alongside the school to set clear expectations for their son.
“It has always been the three of us. James has always had a say, and he’s always had a vote in what’s happening. We’ve made sure to keep our expectations clear for him,” Rebecca said. “Once he agreed he wanted to [go to MHS] to make a better life for himself, we told him we were going to push him and challenge him.”
Now a fifth-grader, James has continued to meet—and exceed—these high expectations. He has learned how to run the mile, and enjoys working with technology to build remote control cars with his friends. His ultimate goal is to join the football team.
“By having the structure and being challenged all the time, James is way more confident in the fact that he can accomplish things he didn’t think he could,” Rebecca said. “The fact that he has the encouragement to see the possibilities is totally different than what he had before.”
As James continues to learn that the sky is the limit, his parents have the opportunity to experience these possibilities firsthand when they visit campus various times throughout the year to shadow his fifth-grade classes.
“Every time we shadow his classes, we go home more invigorated and more solidified in our choice,” Rebecca added.
After recently moving to Ephrata, Pennsylvania, Rebecca is embracing the chance to join her son for weekend events and activities.
“My health has taken a turn for the better since I made the decision to move. I try to be as involved [on campus] as I can,” she said. “I sat with his student home at some football games this fall, and I made all the boys stockings for Christmas. I not only get to spend time with James, but I get to know the boys in his student home, too.”
James also has the opportunity to support his mother through local fundraisers and events for the American Cancer Society.
“He’s very passionate about the American Cancer Society. Being at MHS makes a child philanthropic by nature because they understand how lucky they are to go to the school,” Rebecca explained. “In James’ mind, he’s not only passionate about Hershey but he’s passionate about going to other fundraisers and activities, too.”
Whether she’s in Connecticut or Pennsylvania, Rebecca says one of the most valuable parts of her journey has been building bonds with other parents/sponsors who understand her family’s decision to send James to MHS.
“Nobody else understands the sacrifice, the fear, and the thankfulness of sending your child to MHS than another parent/sponsor. Take the time to meet other sponsors and get to know them,” she said.
Rebecca shared additional advice with parents/sponsors who are supporting a student at MHS:
- “Talk the choice through with people who have your child’s best interest at heart. Don’t just think about today or the little things you’ll miss. Think about the future and what this education is going to provide for your child. It’s all about the future.”
- “MHS can be as interactive as you make it. You can’t just sit back and wait for things to come to you. You have to be involved. Be an advocate for your child and yourself, so you can get the most possible out of the relationship between you and the school.”
- “I’ve heard some harsh comments from people like, ‘How could you give up your child?’ I’m not giving up anything. I’m giving my child a chance I didn’t have.”
- “Having a support system for your ‘Milt’ is incredibly important. Making it not about you, but making it about them, is huge.”
James enrolled at MHS when he was in third grade from Plainfield, Connecticut. Rebecca is James’ mother and supports him as his parent/sponsor while James is at MHS.
Spartan Sponsor Blogs
At Milton Hershey School, our students’ parents and sponsors are important parts of their support system. MHS works closely with parents/sponsors to help students acclimate to campus and excel in and out of the classroom. Hear from parents/sponsors who describe their decision to enroll their child at MHS and their advice for other parents/sponsors.