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Friday, January 18, 2019

Visual Guide Dog Gives MISD Student More Freedom


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When Mady Walker was in the eighth grade, she began losing her vision. Doctors diagnosed her with optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve that causes blurred or dimmed vision.

“With my vision, I can’t see any of my peripheral vision, which means I can’t see anything to the sides of me. It’s black,” Walker explained.

Despite her visual impairment, Walker was determined to stay active as a student. She transitioned to Legacy High School and joined the band and student council, eventually becoming the student body president in her senior year.

With special accommodations and her cane, she is able to keep up with her peers. However, Walker wanted to gain even more freedom in her final year of high school by applying for a guide dog.

The 18-year-old went to a Leader Dogs for the Blind camp in the summer for training. Within five months, she received her new companion.

When Keeper is in his harness, he knows he's on duty.
“She went to go get the guide dog in December, which was phenomenal that it happened that fast,” said Shay Utley, certified orientation and mobility specialist. “She’s the first student that I know of in Mansfield ISD that has ever had a guide dog.”

The guide dog’s name is Keeper. He’s a 20-month-old black Labrador. Walker said she is already able to do more in the short amount of time that she has had him.

“I travel a lot faster. For the most part, he is able to take me places and make me more independent as a person,” said Walker.

She said staff members and classmates have been helpful to her and are getting used to having a canine walking through the hallways.

“They’ve been super accepting. They love to learn more about him,” she said. “Both students and teachers and administration alike have been very welcoming and helpful with this process.”

Walker said although her journey has not been easy, she has finally learned that she can do just as much as someone who has perfect vision.

The senior added that caring for Keeper can be tedious, but she and her dog have been inseparable since they first met.

Friday, January 11, 2019

MISD Schools Team Up to Empower Adolescent Girls


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With the growing emphasis on social media likes and the changing standards of beauty, there’s a lot of pressure put on teenage girls in today’s society.

Two Mansfield ISD counselors heard firsthand the various stories of low self-confidence, so they set out to let young women know their own worth.

“The young ladies who come into my office are often talking about their low self-esteem, doing things in regards to them wanting attention from young men, and things of that nature,” said Candace Chism, seventh-grade counselor at T.A. Howard Middle School. “Or they’re coming in and just saying, ‘I don’t think I’m beautiful. I don’t think anybody likes me.’”

Chism collaborated with Marcie Thomas, a counselor at neighboring Cross Timbers Intermediate School, to inspire girls to become positive women through a half-day conference. Approximately 100 teenage girls from both campuses attended the Level Up Girls Empowerment Conference on Jan. 10 at the Mansfield ISD Center for the Performing Arts.

There were four breakout sessions covering the topics of self-image, mental health, hygiene and career goals. The keynote speaker was former Miss Black USA, Ocielia Gibson.

Organizers and students wore "flawsome" shirts to remind
each other that everyone is flawed yet equally awesome.
“I had an amazing time with the girls. What we did is talk to them about being pretty ‘L.I.T.,’” Gibson said after her presentation. “My philosophy and my recipe for being L.I.T. is loving yourself, ignoring distractions and turning towards your dreams and destiny.”

The girls who attended said they were able to learn something new and open up about relevant topics to adults who have been through the same thing.

“I think it’s a really good thing to have for kids my age and a little older because it’s something that we don’t really like to talk about a lot,” said Rebekkah Gorman, sixth-grader at Cross Timbers Intermediate School. “And I feel like if we have people who have come from that and can really explain it to us, that’d be good for us.”

Thomas said she plans to continue the conference in the years to come. In the meantime, she hopes to see some immediate improvements in the attitude and behavior of the newly empowered teenagers.

“Success to me would be me seeing these girls in the hallway exuding what they’ve been taught,” the counselor explained. “I’d love to see the girls affirming each other after this and staying away from the unnecessary drama.”

The conference was for girls in grades 6 through 8. The counselors said those who attended were chosen directly by them, referred by other staff members or showed great interest in the topics being discussed.

Friday, December 21, 2018

MISD Students Make Holidays Brighter for Community Members


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‘Tis the season to give to others, and many Mansfield ISD students did just for people of all ages before leaving for the winter break.

QUALITY TIME WITH SENIORS

Students at The Phoenix Academy walked down to the Mansfield Nursing and Rehabilitation Center with decorations, food and games to let residents know that they are not forgotten. It’s a tradition that the teenagers and staff members look forward to every year.

Phoenix Academy students sing carols down the halls.
“We do lots of activities,” explained Sally McClure, a science teacher at the school. “We cut out snowflakes. We pass out stockings, refreshments and Christmas cards. The students go caroling around the halls for the residents. It’s just a great time.”

Although it may seem like a small gesture, senior Kelsy Jackson said she knows it makes an impact in the lives of the elderly residents because quality time is important to them.

“Honestly, I think it just brings them a lot of joy because some of them just haven’t seen their family in a long time or they haven’t had visitors,” she said. “So when we come and visit them, I feel like maybe it just makes them a bit happier.”

McClure said the event helps the development of the students as well. She said they are able to develop empathy and learn how to get along with various members of the community.

KIDS HELPING KIDS 

Over at Rogene Worley Middle School, students adopted 25 Mansfield ISD elementary school students to make their holiday season a little more joyous.

As part of its Adopt-A-Kid program, Worley Middle School gets a list of what some less fortunate students will need for the holidays, and the middle schoolers buy as many of the items as they can.

Worley students gather as their adopted child opens one of many gifts.
Principal Julia McMains said she heard heartwarming stories of fundraising efforts throughout the week, but one in particular really showed how dedicated her students were to the cause.

“My friend came into class, and she had mentioned that she had seen a big dollhouse, and she really wanted to get it, but it was $200,” said eighth-grader Zachariah Castillo. “Whenever I did the math, it would have been $8 per student, so we pushed to raise the money. I was surprised that it worked out. We didn’t get a lot at first; but by the third day, we had more than enough to make a little girl’s dreams come true.”

Apart from gifts, the elementary-aged children are also treated to a time of food and fun.

Worley Middle School has held its Adopt-A-Kid Program for more than 30 years. Hundreds of children have been adopted by the school within that span of time.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Student Starts Organization to Help Homeless Kids


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As she accompanied her mom to help out those who do not have a permanent place to live, McKenzie Charles noticed something—the homeless adults often had children who needed certain items as well.

The sixth-grader at Mary Lillard Intermediate School started thinking about what she could do to solve the problem and came up with an idea.

“I decided to start McKenzie’s Helping Hands to specifically target kids who are less fortunate and need their own items and hygienic products,” she said.

She recruited a group of friends to help plan the execution of the idea and began raising money and products for her cause.

After about a month of fundraising and soliciting donations, she and her friends spent a day gathering all the items and preparing them for distribution.

Charles (second from left) held weekly meetings about the drive.
“We made blessing bags, and we put soap, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, lotion and feminine products that they might need,” Charles added. “We also collected blankets because it’s getting colder outside, and the kids would have something of their own to keep them warm.”

Altogether, 100 blessing bags, 75 blankets and several books were donated to Arlington Life Shelter. Those who helped deliver the items said it was a very humbling experience.

“When we walked into the center, I could tell that the manager on duty was very happy that we were there to deliver them,” explained Chaneera Francis, a kindergarten teacher at Martha Reid Leadership Academy. “But the children—our kids—were pretty much quiet and taking in everything and just having a moment of gratefulness that they were able to give back and have an impact on their community.”

Francis said that the project was completely student-run, and it taught the students some valuable lessons as well.

“They had real meetings with each other to go over logistics and ramp up their fundraising efforts,” Francis continued. “There were a lot of learning experiences along the way, and they were able to hone a lot of their social and business skills while helping others.”

Charles said she likes giving back. Eventually, the 11-year old said she wants to make her organization global.

“Some of the other countries I’m thinking of helping are Russia, Spain, Panama…just anywhere that has a need really. I don’t want anybody to go without the basics.”

Charles plans to host another drive to help local homeless children in the spring. She said she is already in talks with shelters to see what items will be needed.

Friday, December 7, 2018

MISD Teacher Reunites with Former Student Turned Author


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A teacher at Willie E. Brown Elementary School got the opportunity to see how a simple certificate that she handed out 25 years ago helped propel a young man to chase his dreams.

Lafayette Dennis, a 2005 graduate of Summit High School, recently published his first book. He was invited back to his old Mansfield ISD elementary school to read the book to some students.

While preparing for the presentation, he found a framed certificate that was given to him by his first-grade teacher, Mrs. Fregien. He was named “Best Story Writer” in the class.

“Remembering the certificate made me realize, ‘Oh wow. This is what I’m supposed to do,’” he said. “I have a real talent for it, I have a passion for it, and I think it inspires me a lot more now than when I was in first grade.”

Dennis wanted to show the certificate to his former teacher during his visit to show how she always believed in his writing abilities, but there was one problem—Mrs. Fregien was no longer working at that school.

Lawless and Dennis were reunited on Dec. 4. 
The 32-year-old author went on a search to see where his former teacher had gone. After some conversation and email exchanges, he found her. 

Mrs. Fregien was now Mrs. Lawless, a second-grade teacher at Willie E. Brown Elementary School. 

“I reached out to the principal and assistant principal, and they told me that they’d love to have me come out and surprise her,” Dennis explained. 

Dennis, who said he was excited and nervous at the same time, was escorted by the principal to the teacher’s room. Jill Lawless didn’t know she was about to see firsthand the impact she had on a child’s life.

“He looks at me and he goes, ‘Do you remember me?’” recalled Lawless, who initially did not recognize him. “But when he said his name, I absolutely remembered the name. He was six when I met him.” 

Dennis went on to tell Lawless that he just published his first book and showed her the old certificate she gave him.

“As a teacher, you always wonder what’s happened with your kids,” said Lawless. “You try to make a difference in everyone’s life; and a lot of times, you never know if you do. So, it’s so cool that he looked for me and found me to tell me that. It’s amazing actually.”

Lawless said she hopes her story encourages other teachers to always give their best to their students because it makes a lasting impact.

“You know, I was going through a hard time back then, so it really had me thinking that even when you have your rough days, you have to keep pushing through for the kids. You never know how your words or actions could inspire them.”

Dennis’ first book, "Gresham the Dreamer," is about a boy who followed his passion instead of obtaining a traditional job. Dennis said it is loosely based on his own personal career path.

Friday, November 30, 2018

MISD Football Coach Keeps Hope as Cancer Returns


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Fear, anger and everything in between describe the feelings Daniel Maberry experienced during the past several months.

The emotional journey began in January when the Mansfield High School head football coach went to the doctor after experiencing a burning sensation in his legs and arms. He said he figured the doctor would simply prescribe him something for the pain but was stunned at the diagnosis.

“They did all sorts of tests. They did a bone marrow biopsy, and that’s when they discovered cancer,” he explained.

Maberry said it was difficult telling his family and his football team about his late-stage lymphoma, but he wanted his message to be that he will keep strong and keep on fighting.

After rounds of chemotherapy and before the start of the football season, the doctors told him that his cancer was in remission. He said the cancer was no longer in his marrow and was not visible in tests, but something didn’t feel right.

His uneasy feeling was confirmed five weeks into the football season. The coach noticed a lump on his side and checked into the emergency room. Through a CT scan, doctors found a two-inch cancer mass.

“Cancer a lot of times takes so much away from you,” he recalled about the cancer returning. “I wasn’t able to be at football games. I wasn’t able to be around the kids at school. I’m not able, necessarily, to play with my girls like I want to. So from that aspect, anger was probably the emotion that I dealt with the most; but at the same time, I’ve had a peace about it.”

Lime green and "Maberry Strong" gear popped up throughout
the community after news of Maberry's diagnosis.
The treatment for Maberry’s cancer is more aggressive this time around because doctors want to ensure that the cancer cells die. During his scheduled treatments, he carries around a backpack filled with chemotherapy medication that feeds steady doses of the medicine into his body.

The husband and father of two explained that he has good days and bad days. On the harder days, he said he tries to keep the right perspective on life and finds strength through his faith and the overwhelming community support.

“Seeing the community pep rallies, seeing the kids here and how they’ve responded—the green outs, the video that they made for me—was unbelievable,” he expressed as he fought back tears. “I’ve cried so many tears through this entire time, and it’s not for sadness. It’s for extreme joy of what these people have done for me.”

Maberry also noted that the district’s Colors for Caring initiative, in which the community is encouraged to wear cancer awareness colors to support a loved one, has also impacted his life because it lifts his spirit to see his school saturated with lime green to bring awareness to lymphoma.

The hashtag #MaberryStrong is also used on social media to highlight the different community support efforts.

“One of the biggest struggles that I had through this journey is, ‘How do I thank everybody for what they’ve done for me?’ I don’t think I can. I don’t think I could ever thank the community for what they’ve done for me mentally, spiritually, just being there for me and my family—I know I’m deeply blessed because of this community. And I’m very grateful for them.”

The coach said he doesn’t know what the future holds for him, but he is optimistic and continues to take life one day at a time.

“I know what I have is very serious. I know what I have is life-threatening, but I can’t live my life in fear every day.”