Enhancing Understanding

By Jillian McGuire

People often look down or belittle those who are different from them for no other reason than simply being uneducated. Freshman English teachers hope to prevent our students from being among the ill-informed. The students have been reading books and plays where the main characters face struggles with mental and physical disabilities. The classes got to hear Ashleigh Peska, who has was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, speak. Peska, a graduate from the Mount Vernon class of 2007, said she was willing to answer any question, no matter how personal. This experience helped the students put things into a better perspective from the reading.

“I really think the most interesting thing Ashleigh discussed was how she said people often look down or consider her unintelligent when really she is currently attending grad school for marriage and family therapy,” said Anna Moore.

Peska spoke of many interesting experiences. “When I was first diagnosed I was around 13, and I was going into the handicapped stall, and an older lady stopped me and told me I didn’t look like I needed the stall and I was told I should respect elders. Just because I didn’t look like I was struggling doesn’t mean I wasn’t.”

The students wrote thank you notes, and many made connections to their own lives. Students related to her discussion in many different ways. One student whose parent works in the medical field, even offered in her parent’s number to help out because Peska spoke of often having aides cancel on her last minute. When an aide cancels, there is no backup provided by the agency. Peska has to call her mom to get her out of bed in the morning or to move her from her wheelchair to her bed at night when professional services cancel. One day, Peska couldn’t get out of bed until 2 p.m. Another student related to Peska’s presentation because the student had recently experienced an injury that is not visible, but was still very painful.

“The thing I found most interesting was how she is so positive and happy despite needing an assistant to get out of bed and help to get food to eat,” said freshman Kambree Holtquist. “It really made me realize I should be more appreciative of what I have. I also found it interesting that she choose a career that helps other people going through similar things as her.”

The sixth hour English 1 class poses for a picture with guest speaker Ashley Peska on Oct. 5.