CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ When remote learning left the Manzi twins asking for more, their reading specialist shortened the distance.
“Hi guys,” Christine Cannon says, jumping out of her car in front of the boys’ Cranston home. “How are you?”
After she holds up a couple of Happy Meals, you realize it’s more than a picnic when an astute observation by Jake about a soda lid inspires a side order of education.
“I hope you’re going to write that down in your book,” Cannon tells him.
While they sing and dance in their backyard, it’s hard to imagine these two Western Hills Middle School 7th graders being upset about anything.
“Ugh!” Maxx yells while impersonating the genie from the movie Aladdin. “Ten-thousand years can give you such a crick in the neck.”
Moments later, Jake, who’s about 20 seconds older than Maxx, bursts out with a scene from Toy Story.
“You are a toy!” he tells his brother.
Then, a duet.
“It’s our problem free, philosophy. Hakuna Matata,” they sang.
Their mom, Melanie, and dad, Jamie, have no worries about the energy their 12-year-old boys bring to the household.
“They love theatre,” their mom says.
Then, came distance learning last March.
“It’s a lot for kids with special needs to have to keep track of,” their mom explains. “Sign into here. Now, I have to submit this. Now, I have to do this.”
Cannon noticed Jake and Maxx needed something extra in the spring when they started signing in early to her virtual meetings.
“They just really clicked with her,” their mom recalls. “She would let them talk about anything they wanted to talk about.”
“And she doesn’t mind if we talk as fast as we can,” Jake adds. “She doesn’t mind if we hang up a little early.”
The first pandemic surprise for Jake and Maxx came after they repeatedly asked Cannon to show her pages from a book on Fred Rogers during a virtual meeting.
“The doorbell rings and there’s Ms. Cannon holding up a sign,” the boys’ mom says. “‘Speedy delivery’ because that’s a Mr. Rogers thing. And she has the book for them.”
Then, there was Maxx’s desire to dress up as a famous chocolatier.
“She’s making me a Willie Wonka suit,” he says.
Cannon is not their reading specialist this school year, making the front lawn picnic and occasional lunchtime phone calls even more special.
“She just goes way above and beyond,” their mom says. “And you know the picnic surprise? That was just something you don’t expect.”
Cannon believes all teachers are doing their best to ease the difficulties of going to school during the pandemic, and she adds she does that as often as she can whether in the classroom, hallways or during a virtual meeting.
“These kids are amazing,” Cannon says. “We have to show them that we’re all going to make it through this. They don’t have the coping skills that adults do yet and they’re learning them.”
As the interview with her ended, the twins had a surprise of their own.
“What are you guys doing?” Cannon asks, smiling as Jake and Maxx walk up out of nowhere with balloons and flowers.
“We want to thank you,” Jake tells her.
Their mom is positive Cannon was the key toward getting her sons through the first semester of distance learning and believes she will also be a huge help during the current school year.
“I tell her all the time,” Manzi says. “I will be grateful to you forever for what you’ve done for my kids.”