02/25/07 — Students honored for their courage

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Students honored for their courage

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 25, 2007 2:10 AM

Joey Lanier started school at age 6 with several strikes against him -- attention-deficient hyperactivity disorder, speech deficits, a seizure disorder and behavior problems.

Three years later, his problems were compounded when his father died of a massive heart attack.

Christy Klein, exceptional children coordinator at Charles B. Aycock High School, has known Joey since he was in kindergarten. She shared bits of his story Friday during the annual Wayne County Public Schools' counselors' luncheon at Goldsboro Country Club.

"He struggled in middle school ... entered high school with such an academic deficiency, he had no confidence and no hope of graduating," she said.

Ms. Klein worked with his mom "just to keep Joey in school," she said. By the time he completed 10th grade, there had been so much improvement that he had become more successful and hopeful. He was even geared up to graduate.

In his junior year, the tide again turned. This time the setback was the potential loss of his mother, who was diagnosed with acute leukemia.

"It was at this point in his life that he knew graduating with a diploma was no longer an option. It would be the key to his future," Ms. Klein said.

Joey will graduate this June with a diploma. He has also found a part-time job as a cabinet-maker. And his mother's illness is in remission.

"Joey found confidence not only in himself, he's found a future for himself," Ms. Klein said.

Lanier and five other students were recognized during the luncheon. Guidance counselors each year nominate students for the awards, honoring those who have had to overcome particular obstacles to succeed in school. Two each from the elementary, middle and high school levels received plaques.

Cameron Smith

Brogden Primary School counselor Cheryl Stafford presented the award to first-grader Cameron Smith.

At the age of 2, Cameron lost his mother in a car accident. Two years later, he was severely injured in a lawn mower accident that caused extensive damage to both legs and resulted in a spate of surgeries. At times, he has had to wear a brace and use a wheelchair, but all the while has proved to be a teacher to those around him, Ms. Stafford said.

"He taught his classmates perseverance, compassion, taking turns and sharing," she said. "He has taught them that being different doesn't set someone apart, and they truly learned about acceptance."

Cameron has surpassed all expectations in school.

"Cameron is a successful first-grader this year," she said. "His optimism and determination have inspired us."

Kiera Overton

A drive to church this past November changed one family's life completely when another vehicle crossed into its path and resulted in a head-on collision.

Kiera Overton, a fifth-grader at Tommy's Road Elementary School, was the most severely injured, spending two weeks in Pitt Memorial Hospital and requiring seven surgeries in the past few months. She still wears a back brace.

Kiera's mother and brother were also hospitalized briefly and her 2-year-old sister broke her arm.

Throughout the ordeal, though, the student has maintained a hopeful and courageous attitude, says her school counselor Carolyn Byers.

"This young lady has truly been an inspiration to all who know her, and her family has as well," she said.

Miguel Castaneda

Lisa Hakes is an instructional assistant at Grantham School, but she prefers to call herself a "shadow," this year to student Miguel Castaneda. Put simply, wherever he goes around the school, so does she.

Miguel has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. He faces challenges every day, but the most pressing one is writing, she said.

There is always progress being made, and it helps that he "faces every day with a smile," she said.

"We have great hopes for Miguel. I'm just happy that I have gotten the chance to work with him," she said.

Trent Radford

Norwayne Middle School counselor Tammy Munoz has known sixth-grader Trent Radford for nearly five years and says she most appreciates his determination and zest for life.

"He's always laughing. We just have our special laughing sessions sometimes," she said.

His attitude, though, belies some of his circumstances. In second grade, he was diagnosed with diabetes, in third grade, autism. He has been hospitalized and currently takes up to four shots a day for the diabetes.

But he still strives for perfect attendance, she said.

"The only days he missed is because of sickness or being in the hospital," Ms. Munoz said.

She also credits the student with "learning every day how to make himself stronger and to have a better life."

Corrine Williams

Pat Yates, counselor at Goldsboro High School, said she realized her candidate for recognition was a little bit different from the rest chosen. But upon digging a little deeper, she said she knew none were more deserving.

Corrine Yates was her office assistant second period. She went above and beyond to support Ms. Yates during and after school.

Closer observation revealed that Corrine's life had not been without obstacles.

"She grew up in difficult and challenging circumstances," Ms. Yates said. "Her parents were not able to provide for her. She was placed in a series of foster homes and the abuse and neglect continued."

Corrine's life changed a few years ago when she was able to go and live with her grandparents, where "she certainly won the jackpot," Ms. Yates said.

Describing her as a young lady who has turned out to be beautiful and well as articulate, she said Corrine has a big heart and a willingness to help others.

And those are just a few of the stories educators in Wayne County Public Schools could share, said Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent.

"We're dealing with something different than boxes and products and things. We're dealing with human beings," he said, applauding the efforts counselors put forth every day.