The Promise of Tomorrow
The Special School District of St. Louis County honors three Florissant area students for their determination in the face of adversity.
The Special Education Foundation (SEF) honored three Florissant students with the Rosemary Zander and Laura K. Sherman Laughlin scholarship recently.
Sheila Glover, a student at Northview School, and Alan Montes De Oca, a student at Ackerman School, have been awarded the Rosemary Zander Award, while Kayla Whittington, a student at North County Technical High School, took home the Laura K. Sherman Laughlin scholarship.
The Rosemary Zander Award celebrates students receiving services from the Special School District who possess positive attitudes and an unwavering will to succeed. The Laura K. Sherman Laughlin scholarship is presented to a deserving student who has sustained a brain injury or has a brain-related disability.
Sheila Glover is 20 years old and entering her senior year at Northview School, which handles students with disabilities between the ages of 14 and 21.
She has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, a condition that would typically have kept her confined to a manual wheelchair and forcing her to rely on others for mobility. However, during the last three years, she has moved to a power wheelchair, and she drives herself using a head array switch in her mission to become more independent. Thanks to her personality and determination, she has made tremendous strides on accomplishing this goal of independence.
“Sheila is one of those students that, when you get her, everyone else is jealous,” Cris Bushman, one of her teachers at Northview, said. “She’s very driven and willing to do whatever it takes to get things done. She is a great model for every student here at Northview.”
Sheila admitted that she couldn’t believe it when she found out she had won the award, and that things did get emotional.
“I was crying. I couldn’t believe I won,” Sheila said. “I was happy and nervous, too.”
Sheila intends to work with Cris and her physical therapist, Sarah Buschmann, to move to a walker, so that she can walk across the stage next year at graduation.
“The walker is hard work, but she wants to do it and enjoys putting the work in,” Buschmann said.
Alan Montes De Oca, the other Rosemary Zander recipient, stood out of the crowd by being the youngest of the bunch, a 7-year-old first-grader from Ackerman.
A boy who simply refuses to acknowledge his limitations, Alan discovered a voice to call his own through the Dynamic Display Communication Device, a computer he uses to speak through buttons and command prompts.
Alan began having seizures at six months old as the result of a stroke, and continued to average one an hour, day and night, until brain surgery in 2006. Shortly after that, he began to walk, but Alan is unable to verbally communicate.
“Alan has made more progress in his two years at Ackerman than we ever could have hoped,” Lorri Guess, a speech language pathologist at Ackerman, said. “He is raised in a home where English is not the spoken language. In going in, we had no idea what level of comprehension he had. He’s so bright and motivated that he was able to lead us and let us know what he wanted to learn.”
His teachers praise him for his ability to embrace all the positives in life.
“A lot of kids in Alan’s state would have a lot of behavior problems,” Elizabeth “Libby” Engelmeyer, a teacher at Ackerman, said of her prized student. “But he is so upbeat and happy. His personality is addictive.”
Kayla Whittington is a senior at North County Technical High School and plans on using the Laura K. Sherman Laughlin scholarship to attend St. Louis Community College at Forest Park.
For as long as she can remember, she has never been able to fully comprehend numbers and general mathematics. She has worked to overcome this tremendous obstacle, and the SEF honored her commitment with the scholarship.
“Winning the scholarship really made me think that I can accomplish anything,” Kayla said. “At first I didn’t think I could do it, there was just so much going on. Then I just went with it, and next thing I knew I won.”
Kayla was encouraged by Mary Pierson, a caseworker at North County Technical High School, to apply for the scholarship. Pierson helped her write the essay and gather her letters of recommendation. She had the support of faculty and staff throughout the school, including social worker Krista Sherman.
“I just assumed Kayla would win a scholarship,” Sherman said. “I’ve watched her become a confident young woman. I had no doubts she wouldn’t win.”
Kayla hopes to use her scholarship to study health care and eventually open her own funeral home. She would like to be mortician.
Despite the math involved in entering the health profession, Kayla is certain she will accomplish everything she sets out to do.
“I’m at the point where I’ve stopped saying ‘I can’t.’ I know if I want to achieve, I can’t have that kind of attitude,” Kayla said.
All three students received their awards at the Commitment to Kids Banquet on April 28.
Correction: Previously, the article stated that the youngest recipient of the Rosemary Zander award was a high school freshman; however, the school district states that grade schoolers and even early childhood students have won the award.