Triplets Davis Newton, Brantley-Kate Newton and Rees Newton stand on the Famous Maroon Band's practice field during a visit to campus. The triplets are attending MSU in the fall, with Davis and Brantley-Kate in the band and Rees attending through the university's ACCESS program. Photo by: Courtesy photo
March 18, 2019 10:37:37 AM
Denise Newton believes a February acceptance letter from Mississippi State University will completely change her son Rees' life.
Rees, a senior at Frisco High School in Texas, is one of six students to be selected for MSU's ACCESS (Academics, Campus Life, Community Involvement, Employment Opportunities, Socialization and Self-Awareness) program -- a highly-selective program that integrates students with special needs into the university's student body and campus life.
Even better for the Newtons, Rees' acceptance will allow their triplet children -- including Rees' brother, Davis, and his sister, Brantley-Kate -- to take another step in life together as all three will enroll at MSU this fall.
"ACCESS, I think, will truly change the complete trajectory of his life," Denise said. "I think it's one of those things we'll look back on and say it's a gamechanger, absolutely."
Denise said Rees, Davis and Brantley-Kate were born 28 weeks premature. Davis and Brantley-Kate came home after 14 weeks at the hospital, she said. Rees came home after 16 weeks but was in and out of the hospital for almost the entire first year after.
While the whole of Rees' condition doesn't have a formal diagnosis, Denise said he's had 17 major surgeries and has cerebral palsy and periventricular leukomalacia -- a condition where areas around his brain's ventricles died due to damage from being born prematurely.
But despite the challenges, Rees -- who is active in his school's theater program -- has adapted well.
"Adaptively, he's on a level with his peers," Denise said. "He drives a car. He's in some resource classes at school but in the rest of them, he's in the regular classes. Hanging out with peers and those sort of things, you can't tell a difference."
Rees said he's looking forward to getting on campus and hopes to continue his involvement with theater once he arrives.
"I think it's going to be exciting that I get to be in a smaller class, and experience all of the games and get to join clubs," he said. "I want to join theater and do acting -- I'm just really excited overall to come to Mississippi State."
The Newtons have spent their whole lives together, and Denise said as the family started preparing for college, they wanted that to continue.
"I wanted to stay with them because I didn't want to leave them," Brantley-Kate said, "and I wanted to experience college with two of my best friends."
Rees said he also wanted to stick with his brother and sister.
"I wanted to go to college and be able to experience it, and be there with my brother and sister and not be far away," Rees said. "I was really excited and I was like 'I actually get to go.' My parents are really happy that I get to go too."
Denise started looking into colleges that have programs for special needs students and found MSU's ACCESS program. The family visited MSU on spring break last year, and Denise said it was apparent from the outset the kids wanted to attend.
They began the ACCESS application process in August, which Denise said was "very involved." She and her husband, John, visited MSU with Rees for an ACCESS open house event in October.
Rebecca Spencer, assistant director of ACCESS, said Rees left an impression even on that first visit.
"He was just so positive," she said. "He was excited to be there. He engaged well with the staff and students who were there for the open house, and he just really stood out to us as somebody that was on our radar when his application came in as a possible person to interview."
The Newtons returned in January for an interview.
After that, it was a matter of waiting, until Rees' acceptance letter arrived in February. When the day came, Denise said, Rees was over the moon.
"I don't even know if there's a word that describes how excited he is," Denise said. "He's just so thrilled that he gets to go do the same thing that all his friends are talking about and that Brantley-Kate and Davis are talking about and experience college life."
Rees' siblings shared his excitement.
"That meant for us that we could stick together," Davis said. "It means that Rees could come to Mississippi State and experience a four-year college and have as much that we could have instead of staying at home for two years and trying to go to college after that."
Julie Capella, assistant dean and director of student support services, said that, while it's good the Newton triplets will continue to stick together, Rees made it into the program on his own merits.
"If Rees had not met our criteria, which is pretty stringent, even though this is a wonderful story, we wouldn't have been able to accept him, because you really have to be the right fit to be in ACCESS," Capella said.
MSU's ACCESS program started in 2010 with one student. The program has 22 students this year and will have 25 in the fall. ACCESS is a four-year program where students work toward a certificate of completion, which includes participation in the university's graduation ceremony once they're done.
Spencer said the program focuses both on academics and job readiness, with job shadowing opportunities for students in the fall and spring semesters.
Capella said programs like ACCESS give students who otherwise wouldn't have the chance to go to college a way to fit in and have the same kind of experiences as other students.
"Programs like this give students the opportunities to develop and grow and get the whole college experience," Capella said. "Everybody out there knows how much that can mean to a person, that experience, and learning how to live on your own and make new friends, and get academic skills that go along with social skills and soft skills so that you can live your best life."
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