The apples of their teachers' eyes
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 13, 2014 1:50 AM
Beth Houtz and student Timothy Dortch, 9, swing during recess at Northwest Elementary.
Mohammed Manees Al-Harizi, 7, plays with Play-Doh in his English as a Second Language class at Meadow Lane Elementary.
Latifah Syeh, 17, fills out a scholarship application with the help of counselor Jason Willoughby in the media center of Goldsboro High School.
Isquenbely Idoris, 12, eats breakfast in the cafeteria of Mount Olive Middle School. Each morning he gathers with a group of friends, known as the Breakfast Club, to talk and eat before school begins.
The students pose with Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of schools, Angie Rains of Rosewood Middle School, district counselor of the year, and Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent or curriculum and instruction.
Mohammed Manees Al-Harizi was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor when he was 4 years old.
An operation helped but affected his motor skills.
Since moving to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia, he has become a thriving kindergartner at Meadow Lane Elementary School.
"To look at Mohammed, you would think that he's a frail little boy who's calm and gentle," Maribeth Interrante, his English-as-a-Second-Language teacher, said. "But come recess he will leave his walker and get in the sand and play with his friends."
Well-liked by his classmates and known for his politeness and leadership qualities, she called him a "very personable little boy determined to succeed."
On Wednesday, he was one of four Wayne County Public Schools students recognized by the district's School Counselors Association for overcoming obstacles and thriving in school.
After Mohammed was presented with an engraved plaque, his father, Manees Al-Harizi, a pilot stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, asked to say a few words.
"When I came here, Mohammed was not walking. When Mohammed started school, that first day, we carried Mohammed in the stroller," he said, sharing how his son required physical therapy. "In less than a month, he was using his walker."
The proud father said he was grateful to the school system for embracing his child.
"He's doing great with his classmates, with his teachers, all the people that help Mohammed," he said. "I would like to thank them, and I would like to thank Wayne County for the education." Mack Beard, counselor at Mount Olive Middle School, recognized a student at his school who had also met with challenges early on.
Isquenbely Idoris, a 12-year-old fifth-grader, is legally blind. His family moved to the area three years ago.
"They came to Wayne County from Florida. Prior to that they lived in Haiti. He did not attend school due to his impairment. In spite of that, he's always been adaptable and still maintains a positive attitude," Beard said. "He has learned Braille, enjoys using his iPod the school system gave him and is able to search the web by using the keyboard in Braille."
The youth "takes the time to enjoy the small things in life," like breakfast, the counselor said. He can typically be found surrounded by classmates each morning in what Beard said has come to affectionately be called the "breakfast club."
Goldsboro High School senior Latifah Syeh is also a success story, said counselor Jason Willoughby.
But there were adversities along the way, he told the audience, pointing out he was giving them a "condensed" version of her story.
She attended several high schools before arriving at GHS this past fall. Among her challenges were living arrangements, until she went to live with a friend and has since been linked up to several resources and services to support her efforts to finish high school.
Described as "very bright and ambitious," she is now ranked No. 4 in her graduating class. She has been accepted at Appalachian State University, where she plans to earn a bachelor's degree in chemistry and work toward her goal of becoming a radiologist.
"She could have succumbed to a negative situation," Willoughby said, but instead "has taken it in stride and used it as a motivation to do more."
Miss Syeh thanked her teachers at the school, especially Willoughby.
"He's not even my guidance counselor," she said, evoking laughter from the crowd. "He's done everything for me."
The final student in the group recognized, as well as this year's counselor of the year, were repeat recipients from 2011.
Timothy Dortch, now a third-grader at Northwest Elementary School, had been acknowledged at the annual counselors event as a kindergartner three years ago while attending North Drive Elementary School. Then, as now, he manages Type I diabetes, but has never let it interfere with his daily schedule.
"He's even had to miss out on special treats in class, until we could find out what his sugar level was, while he sat there waiting patiently. He always has a positive attitude," said his current teacher, Beth Houtz, calling him a "hard worker" who does not give up. "My life in the classroom has been enriched by his presence."
The district's counselor of the year was Angie Rains, who also received the award three years ago. She is a counselor at Rosewood Middle School.