Mediocrity Not An Option For ‘Differently Abled’ Students


UPDATED: Wednesday June 27, 2012 4:51 PM

From a distance, Colerain Elementary School looks like any school in central Ohio.

Up close, though, it is a place unlike any other.

Each student is held to the same “rise and shine expectations” during their time at the school, regardless of whether they walk or wheel through the hallways, 10TV’s Kristyn Hartman reported.

Jose Mendez, 11, zooms through the halls in a chair he controls with his foot.

He does not have typical legs and is missing full arms and hands, but that did not stop him from learning to write. Mendez gets the job done with a pencil between his toes, Hartman reported.

Part of Colerain’s mission is to serve students who are orthopedically impaired and medically fragile.

“I hate to say disabilities,” former principal Doni Jackson said. “I call them different abilities. Half of the children have different abilities, the other half are typical neighborhood kids.”

Colerain’s “can do” attitude is a top-down commitment.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes to make these children successful,” Jackson said. “Granted, we have children very involved, but I still think we can do things to make life better.”

“This school rocks,” Mendez said. “This is the best school ever.”

When Mendez wanted to make music, Jackson found a way, Hartman reported.

“When I was in fourth grade Miss Jackson taught me how to play the harmonica,” Mendez said. “Now I play it well.”

Classes are divided into groups of the differently able and the “typical” student, while others are combined. In all classes, one strict rule applies – a zero-tolerance policy for prejudice.

“I was taught how to treat other people equally and correctly,” teacher Isaac Wing said.

In any given class is a sense of camaraderie and a determination to get the job done the right way.

“Mediocrity is not accepted,” Jackson said. “If you accept mediocrity, you'll get it.”

They are tough standards that often come with a soft touch.   On campus, “high fives” and hugs are common. 

It seems to make current students want to come to school, and it compels alums to come back and visit.

“Being here taught me that being different is OK, and there’s nothing wrong with it.  Differences are in everyone,” graduate Samara Menefee said.

Anne Silfer said that her son, Evan, came into the world with birth defects and an uncertain future. Evan moved on, along with Doni Jackson. 

After giving her adult life to education, Jackson retired.  She said that she will miss the daily interaction with the kids.  But she’s leaving with the memories and some simple truths.

"These are my kids,” said Jackson. “They are my children.  They always will be.”

Sherri Berridge is Colerain’s new principal.  She said that she looks forward to it, and is up to the challenge.

Colerain’s mission statement is “Our Emphasis Is On Excellence.”  The school has received an “Excellent” rating from the state, and for lottery students, there’s typically a waiting list.

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