Independence students return home from life-changing semester

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Anxious nerves kept families pacing in terminal A at Kansas City International Airport Friday morning. 

"I've been counting the minutes," parent Kimberly Kuhlman said.

"This is Christmas for parents," Angela Gentry said.  "Seeing our kids come home is gonna be great."

These parents hadn't seen their kids, ages 11 to 17, since they left in August for MindStream Academy in Bluffton, S.C.  Many called it the opportunity of a lifetime -- sort of ‘The Biggest Loser' goes to boarding school. 

"They have accomplished so much," said Nancy Lewis, of the Independence School District. "They went four months ago not knowing what to expect, and they gave it 100 percent. And they accomplished more than what we expected them to. I think more than what they expected themselves."

With their hard work and sacrifice behind them, finally the plane appeared at the gate. 

One by one, the students walked and ran into the arms of their parents. They exchanged hugs, kisses and a few tears. Most kept stepping back for another look at just who came home.

"He's changed so much!  He's so skinny!" said Kuhlman, mother of Cameron Larkin.  The sixth grader lost 68 pounds.

"It's amazing!" said Ishel Beers, mother of eighth grader Emily Beers. Emily lost 62 pounds.

Junior Teah Gentry returned home 64 pounds lighter.

"I was sitting on the plane so anxious," Teah explained.  "Then when I got off and see my family, I'm just like 'Oh my God!' you know? I did it, they did it. It just made me feel like I could come home and continue to do it."

Members of the group said their biggest loser was Junior Jason Alexander. He lost 98 pounds.

"Oh my God, he looks amazing! He looks amazing!" his mother Debbie said beaming. "I told him, I don't think I've ever seen you smile so much in my life."

As the students begin to assimilate into a new life back at home, they face their first hurdle right away:  Christmas and all the high-calorie goodies that go with it. The kids say no worries. Many are planning the menu and even cooking their family's holiday meal. Their parents say they can't wait.

MindStream and Independence Schools will continue to work with the students to help them maintain thier health lifestyle. The district hopes to send another group of students next fall if they can secure the funding.

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