‘A Bittersweet Day’ as 14 Graduate from Potential Development

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Logan Johnston’s journey at Potential Development started in April 2018 when he began attending the school and found, for the first time, a teacher who he felt truly understood him.

“I would just like to start off by saying, I don’t know where I would be without this school,” Johnston said. “This school has changed my life, and it really was the best thing that has happened to me.”

Potential Development, a pre-K through 12th grade school for children with autism, celebrated the graduation of 14 seniors, including Johnston, at Stambaugh Auditorium on Friday. The ceremony brings the total number of graduates to nearly 80 in the past 10 years.

Stepping to the podium, Johnston talked about many teachers and staff who welcomed him, joked with him, good-heartedly recognized the Browns-Steelers football rivalry with him, accepted him for who he is and taught him a lot about himself. Johnston said he wishes he could repay them.

Johnston also recognized the friends he made among his peers. He specifically mentioned the girlfriend he is leaving behind at Potential Development, his teammates on the basketball team and other friends who remained even during times when they did not see eye-to-eye.

Finally, Johnston acknowledged his mother, who recognized he was not doing well in his other school and helped him find his way to Potential Development.

“She took the initiative to send me here, and I’m really grateful for it,” said Johnston, prompting the crowd to give her a round of applause.

Paul Garchar, CEO of Potential Development, said it was great to have a senior share so many of his personal memories about his time at the school and recognize the impact it will have on his life going forward.

“For students like Logan, Potential Development is able to offer a very individualized approach for each student, based on his abilities,” Garchar said. “[Logan] is one of our higher functioning students. We’re able to help him not only with his education, but extracurricular activities, how he’s feeling.”

Although Logan may have been anxious about leaving the school, Garchar said it is important for the students to know Potential Development is always going to be there for them.

Some of the students will go on to work part-time like Johnston, who is employed at Rulli Brothers. Others may go off to college, work training programs or supportive program placements. Potential Development’s staff starts early, when the students are in middle school, and helps parents and students find what is possible for them before setting them on a forward path.

“Every student who comes to Potential Development comes at a different point in their educational journey,” Garchar said. “Some are maybe on the lower end of the spectrum; some are maybe high functioning and will go on to college. But we’re there to help every single student, and we’re proud of that.”

Katie Petridis, left, high school program coordinator at Potential Development, and Paul Garchar, CEO, pose with new Potential Development graduate Malachi Signor after he receives his diploma.

Two of the seniors who graduated Friday have been with the program since 2008.

“It’s a bittersweet day,” Garchar said. “We’re glad we were able to be part of their lives for that long. After 15 years, it’s hard to say goodbye.”

There are students now starting at the school in the pre-kindergarten level, and Garchar points out that Potential Development offers programs for students at every age level.

“It is hard to believe Potential Development has been offering a high school program for 10 years,” Garchar said. … “We are seeing kids coming at the preschool level 2 1/2 to 3 years old and stay with us all the way through to the point where they walk across the stage and earn their diploma.”

Following the ceremony, the graduates and their families celebrated by taking photos around Stambaugh Auditorium, followed by a luncheon at The Lake Club hosted by the Muransky Companies.

Pictured at top: Logan Johnston of Boardman gives his student address, providing several examples of how Potential Development impacted his life and thanking his mom for sending him to the school.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.