Life is famous for throwing us curveballs. The unexpected curveball is one of the few things we can count on. While a global curveball is rare, dealing with a personal one in the middle of a pandemic might just be the ultimate curveball.
Several months before we were aware of the coming coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Kristen Adams got the curveball of her life. While all our lives have changed drastically, most haven’t changed as much as hers.
The daughter of two Fort Worth natives, Dr. Adams was born in North Carolina while her father was finishing a graduate program. After which the family moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico – quite a change from Fort Worth – where her father worked as a nuclear physicist and her mother as an elementary school teaching assistant.
Having spent most of her childhood vacations visiting family in Fort Worth, Dr. Adams said it has always felt like home. During college, Fort Worth became home when she moved here to help take care of her ailing grandmother.
Dr. Adams studied art history in college and was able to study abroad. However, her goal has always been to work in education, so after school, Dr. Adams worked as a transition teacher in public schools, getting students transitioned back into regular classrooms, and she developed a life skills classroom at a new intermediate school. At the same time, she began work on her master’s degree in both special education and administration. “In 2001, I took a position at the KinderFrogs School [at Texas Christian University] which changed my life. I was welcomed into the Down’s syndrome community. I discovered a capacity for learning in this population that I had never known was there.”
Shortly thereafter, Dr. Adams began developing strong relationships with TCU’s Starpoint School, a laboratory school for students with learning differences. Those relationships grew over the years, and last year, she was appointed the Interim Assistant Director of Starpoint and shortly thereafter, the Director and Jean W. Roach Chair of Laboratory Schools at Texas Christian University.
The parents of Starpoint students are vocal and enthusiastic supporters of Dr. Adams. Starpoint parent Shannon Lange said, “She stood at the front door of school and learned every child’s name within days of school starting… [and] cared enough to sit with me for three hours to discuss plans and expectations before school even started. She removes tension and unease with her presence and the mood of the entire school feels elevated in her wake. She is positivity and kindness and I absolutely love her.”
In her new position at Starpoint and with the strong backing of Starpoint parents, 2019 was certainly going Dr. Adams’ way. Another parent, Christen Gullatt, said of her administration, “Dr. Adams’ empathetic nature casts a sense of calm over the entire school… She is a shining star, and we are forever grateful for her guidance, leadership, and support.” High praise, indeed.
Then came the curveball.
“I was diagnosed just before Thanksgiving, and while it came as a shock, I knew something had been wrong,” said Adams. “Hearing I had pancreatic cancer knocked me back a bit and caused me to really re-evaluate my goals. A diagnosis like this makes you focus quickly on what time you may have left. You suddenly realize all you planned to do you may not accomplish. There are feelings of frustration and hurt and ‘why me.’ The prognosis is not ideal, but I plan to make the most impact I can with the time I have here.”
While she is unable to work, Dr. Adams is keeping up with the goings-on at Starpoint, “but I dearly miss the day-to-day interactions; there simply is no replacement for that. I would hope to return to work in some capacity, but that remains to be seen.”
Dr. Adams describes the support she has received as “unimaginable.” Starpoint families have provided meals and in-home help. They have taken Dr. Adams to chemotherapy appointments and stayed with her when she has needed to be in the hospital.
Having to deal now with the coronavirus pandemic on top of her battle with cancer just adds insult to injury. “It is heartbreaking and frustrating not to be able to go to the school or meet face-to-face with my colleagues,” said Adams. “The worst part of course is not seeing or talking with the children. Hopefully, this [pandemic] will reach a resolution soon. But until then, know that Starpoint and Kinder Frogs will continue on.”