02/13/05 — Students with obstacles honored

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Students with obstacles honored

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 13, 2005 2:11 AM

A kindergarten student who went through a kidney transplant is again on a donor list. A young boy whose family moved here speaking no English, suffered burns that left him with disfiguring scars. Still another, who moved from foster care and adoptive families, has managed to succeed in school and inspire students and staff with his attitude.

Six students were honored Friday for having overcome obstacles in their lives during the annual Wayne County Counselors Association luncheon.

Every year, each public school in the county nominates a student, with two studentseach chosen to represent the elementary grades, middle and high schools.

This year's recipients were Hualian Xu, a third grader at Meadow Lane Elementary School; Zachary Riebe, a kindergarten student at Northwest Elementary; Terrence Davis of Norwayne Middle School; Devin Hill, a seventh grader at Rosewood Middle; Brandon Kincaid, Eastern Wayne High School junior; and Antoine Gholston Jr., a senior at Charles B. Aycock High.

Representatives from each recipient's school shared some of the inspiring stories and outstanding qualities to illustrate why the students had been chosen for the honor.

Hualian Xu

Hualian Xu, a third-grader at Meadow Lane, moved to this country last year with his family, who speak no English. His counselor, Vicki Phillips, said he got her attention right away and teachers have since been concerned about his well-being.

"The most obvious thing that one notices is that he's severely scarred" she said. She explained how he was left with disfiguring scars after being burned at age 4 by burning incense in the family's home in China.

In spite of this, she said, the rest of his story is good. She said his attitude toward learning is very positive and he's made great progress in school. He has also begun to laugh and smile and hum and sing, she said.

The school contacted the Shriner's organization and arrangements are being made for Hualian to have plastic surgery.

"We realize he'll suffer and will have many surgeries," Ms. Phillips said. "But we truly believe that these surgeries will greatly improve the quality of his life for the future."

Zachary Riebe

Northwest Elementary School principal Alex Wingate said every morning that Zach arrives at school, he has to give Wingate a "high five."

Kindergarten teacher Joan Stafford has taught Zach for the last two years and said there is much to tell about someone so little. When he started school, he could only attend half days because of his health. He was in and out of the hospital, had a kidney transplant and is back on the donor transplant list.

He is also on a feeding tube and requires medication every day at school.

But, she noted, "He always smiles and brings a great deal of joy to those around him. He has taught the children in my room for two years how to overcome problems with a smile."

Zach, she said, is a little boy "but he's definitely made a large impact on all of us."

Terrence Davis

Terrence Davis' life got off to a rocky start, said school counselor Joan Harper. The Norwayne Middle School student was removed from his home at age 2 by Social Services, placed in a string of foster homes with his older brother and at age 6 was adopted by a family.

Unfortunately, Ms. Harper said, "He went from one bad situation to another."

He is now living with a family who fell in love with him at church, Ms. Harper said. She said when she surveyed teachers at the school about this year's nominees, Terrence came up as the unanimous choice.

"He deserves the award in every way," she said. "He wants to set up a foundation like Tiger Woods did, for other children."

Terrence accepted the plaque, then quietly said, "I really don't feel like I deserve this, but thank you, everyone."

Devin Hill

Rosewood Middle School counselor Angie Rains described Devin Hill, a seventh grader with muscular dystrophy, as independent, courageous, dependable, and a role model for his peers and the school's staff.

"He's very resilient," she said. "We're so proud of him."

She said Devin required surgery last year and was out of school for a month, but has continued to have good spirits. She said students "beg for rides on his motorized wheelchair," then asked him to demonstrate his driving abilities as he navigated his way to the podium.

Brandon Kincaid

Christa Coates, a counselor at Eastern Wayne High, said she has known Brandon Kincaid since he was a freshman and his father wheeled him into her office to discuss the class schedule.

Now a junior, Brandon has graduated from a wheelchair to a walker and currently walks with a cane. At age 3, he showed signs of a delayed ability to walk, Ms. Coates said, with nerve damage that caused him to walk on the sides of his feet. It worsened as he grew older and the condition didn't even have a name until recently, she said.

He has had two surgeries to stabilize his condition, she said, and through it all has managed to be ranked in the top 20 percent of his class and be a member of the National Honor Society. He is also interested in learning Spanish and teaches a Sunday School class at his church, she said.

"I'm so proud of the progress I have seen Brandon make in the last two and a half years," she said.

"Thank you," Brandon said as he accepted the award. "You don't really know how good you have it until you see other people."

Antoine Gholston Jr.

If Antoine Gholston, Jr. goes into the counseling office at Charles B. Aycock High School, it is probably for one of two reasons -- to help out another student or to find out information so that he can graduate this spring.

So said counselor Gladys Diggs, who also described him as loving, respectful, polite, sincere, friendly, and determined.

"In spite of his challenges, he never allows his disability to hinder him," she said.

In ROTC, nothing hinders his physical performance, she said; in band, he moves from one instrument to another with one hand.. When anyone comments about that, she said he'll respond, "You do what you gotta do."

Antoine said, "Thanks to all the teachers and counselors and students that nominated me for this because this is my last year."

Board of Education Chairman Lehman Smith congratulated all the honorees, as well as the counselors who serve in the public schools.

"At some times in our lives, we have all been counselors," he said. "I salute you for choosing counseling as a profession, for all the times your heart has been broken, for all the times you have helped a young person succeed."

Dr. Steve Taylor, superintendent of schools, said he is always prepared to hear touching stories at the annual counselors luncheon.

"When I hear these stories, their determination, their motivation, I wish I could just get about a quarter of that and inject it in some other folks," he said. "When you see the extra efforts that these kids have to put into their daily lives, it's rewarding."

He commended the work done by the 45 counselors currently in the school system that serves over 19,000 students.