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November 1, 2001
Vol. 59
No. 3

Voices: The Coordinator / Two Inspirational Students

The Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District—along with a neighboring regional education service district—supports a local cable television network (PACE) that provides programming for 22 school districts in a six-county area. Although most PACE programming is received through a downlink from other networks and then rebroadcast over the PACE system, we also produce our own shows. One of my shows is School Forum, a talk show featuring people, events, and issues related to education.
I particularly enjoy interviewing students for School Forum because they are honest and enthusiastic. Often they ask with excitement, "Does this mean I'm a television star?" Annie and David were two of my guests on the show.


When I arrange for students to appear on School Forum, I usually rely on the principal to choose which students I will interview. I followed this procedure when I invited 3rd graders from East Elementary School to be my guests. I sought to highlight the students' creativity by focusing on the inventions that they had designed and then built for a class assignment. The principal and I agreed that he would select eight students who would come to the studio with models of their inventions.
On the day of the program taping, the principal and eight students arrived promptly, and he introduced me to each of them. I exchanged greetings with all of the children except Annie, who did not speak. Although she gazed at me pleasantly with bright blue eyes, her tiny lips expressed only a hint of what appeared to be a smile. The principal then took me aside and said, "Annie is autistic. She does not speak to anyone. Her only communication is by occasionally whispering in the ear of her friend Melissa."
I tried to conceal my disbelief. How was I to interview a student who did not speak? What would this experience do to this student? When people saw her on television, she would look foolish. What in the world was the principal thinking? Assessing the situation, however, I felt I had no choice but to proceed. Annie had come to PACE so that she could be on television; I was not about to single her out from the seven other students and say, "You can't be on TV." Little did I know that I was about to learn how important it is not to jump to conclusions about people.
I brought the students into the studio, seated them, and arranged their inventions for display before the cameras. I was still frustrated with the principal, but I forced myself to concentrate on how I was going to interview Annie without embarrassing her. The countdown began: "Five, four, three, two, one."
"Good evening," I said. "This is Jane Millar. Welcome to School Forum. This evening I have eight students from East Elementary School as my guests. They are going to talk about their inventions." I continued with the format I always follow. "First, let's begin by letting each of you introduce yourself." I held the microphone for the first student and continued until I reached Annie. When I held the mike to her mouth, she merely turned to her friend Melissa. Melissa responded, "She's Annie, and I'm Melissa." The last two students introduced themselves, and then we began to discuss their inventions. All of the students except Annie chimed in with tidbits of information; Annie sat quietly. I then asked each of the students to demonstrate his or her invention. One by one, the students explained their devices, such as an automated dog feeder and a battery-powered kite. Needless to say, I was not sure what to expect from Annie when her turn came to display her model.
Annie and Melissa stood up. Annie had invented a householdwide alarm clock, and she used her dollhouse to demonstrate how the system worked. Melissa provided the dialogue. It was an impressive presentation, just as notable as those of her peers.
After the taping, many students said that they could hardly wait until the show aired so that their friends and families could watch them on television. They thanked me in many ways; Annie was no exception. She walked up to me, looked me in the eye, and hugged me. I found it difficult to conceal my tears. A perceptive principal had grasped the importance of such an opportunity for Annie and had made a gutsy decision to give her a moment to shine, a lesson in self-confidence. How thrilled her parents must have been when they saw their daughter on television, and how proud Annie must have been of her accomplishment.


During a hernia operation when he was two months old, David had a reaction to the anesthesia. His heart stopped, the blood was cut off to his brain for an extended time, and many of his brain cells died as a result. Initially, a neuro-logist predicted that David would be mentally retarded; fortunately, that prediction was inaccurate. Nonetheless, David was left severely disabled. Today, he is confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy; lacks control of his arms, which often wave aimlessly; and speaks in an often unintelligible, guttural monotone.
David and his mother, Carol, were to be my guests on School Forum. I had made the necessary arrangements for the interview with Carol but was still nervous. My greatest fear was that I would not be able to understand anything that David said.
David and Carol talked candidly about his disabilities. Carol shared the frustration and pain she had felt when David was a baby. Surprisingly, David explained how he was able to be a member of his school's forensics team. He would receive his topic in extemporaneous competition and go into a monitored computer room with his mother, where she would type his speech as he dictated it to her. Then the speech would be transferred to transparency paper. As David read the speech before the judges, it would appear on an overhead projector so that the judges could read and listen simultaneously, allowing them to understand what he was saying. All participants had adapted to make the system work for David.
Near the close of the show, I commented to David that I thought he was a courageous young man. He responded that nothing good could come of feeling sorry for himself; he preferred to maintain a positive outlook on life. I don't doubt that David will persevere and, with determination, reach his goal of becoming an attorney specializing in environmental issues.

High Expectations

It is the responsibility of educators to set high standards for all students. Annie's and David's teachers and school leaders hold high expectations for their academic success and challenge them to produce quality work. As a result, both students have excelled.
In addition, educators are responsible for ensuring that students understand their civic responsibilities. When Annie and David appeared on School Forum, they conveyed a powerful message: Everyone has something to contribute to his or her community. Annie demonstrated that autistic children can be bright, sensitive, and gentle; David showed that the most severe disabilities can be overcome.
One of the most important responsibilities of educators is developing students' self-concepts. Annie and David know that people believe in them and in their abilities. A principal took a risk when he brought Annie to the School Forum studio and gave her a moment to shine. David's mother is determined that he will have the opportunity to participate in activities that interest him; she is his advocate. Both Annie and David were magnificent on School Forum; undoubtedly, the experience increased their self-confidence and self-respect. Annie and David did, in fact, become television stars.
End Notes

1 Names and places have been changed.

V. Jane Millar has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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