Challenges of autism have not hindered student?s love of learning

06/07/2010

Getting up every morning and going to school is what children are expected to do. That, after all, is a student’s job. Some students, however, take that job more seriously than others. Consider Ronisa Smith, a DPS Meadowdale senior who will graduate this June without having missed a single day of school in the last 10 years. Ronisa, who is the daughter of Valarie Smith, a special needs teacher at Cleveland PK-8 School, gets up every morning, gets dressed and catches a ride to school with her father, Michael Montgomery. She has come to school without fail from her third-grade year through her senior year of high school and has missed only a few days in her primary years. It’s a record in which her mother takes great pride, especially considering her daughter’s lifelong struggle with autism. Autism is a developmental disorder that can result in difficulties with social interaction and communication, as well as restricted and repetitive behavior that typically becomes apparent before the age of three. The routine of school is comforting to Ronisa, who looked forward to attending classes as a young child and grew upset at the thought of no school on Saturdays and Sundays. “Weekends were difficult, and spring break was very hard,” Smith said of her daughter’s disappointment at the thought of a day away from school. “But Ronisa began attending church with my mother, and we helped her learn that Monday through Friday was for school, Saturday was a day to relax with family, and Sunday was a day to go to church with her grandmother.” Blessed with good health, Ronisa found school to be a stabilizing force, and her teachers have enjoyed her positive attitude. “She’s a delightful child, a beautiful young lady. She has many talents and abilities,” said Jenny Smith, director of special education for DPS. Ronisa began her high school career at Meadowdale in Florence Walling’s special needs class. Her teacher remembers her beautiful singing voice and bright smile. “She was such an eager young student, always willing to try what was asked of her, even though it was sometimes a personal struggle” Walling said. “I will never forget the first time I heard her singing voice; it was beautiful, good enough for American Idol!” Ronisa is currently enrolled in the district’s Adult Transition Program, which works with “Super Seniors” ages 18 to 22 who have earned enough academic credits to graduate but have deferred accepting their diploma in order to increase vocational skills. The program concentrates on job and life skills. “Ronisa comes to class and work everyday, prepared and with a good attitude, said Rhonda Makieiwcz, an intervention specialist with the program. “She is enthusiastic; always willing to try new things and help out wherever needed. This year, she has been involved in Special Olympics bowling and track and field. Ronisa is a ray of sunshine, always happy, polite and friendly. We’re happy she is being recognized!” -30-

Challenges of autism have not hindered student?s love of learning