It was one lap around the track at Lake Gibson Middle School, but for Millicent Whitehead, it was proof that her daughter, who has cerebral palsy, is going to go far in life.
“All she needs is consistency — and the right support, which she has gotten at her school,” said Whitehead, a clerk specialist who works in PCPS’ Exceptional Student Education department.
As part of its Disability Awareness Month recognition, PCPS highlighted students like Kiana Leslie, who are overcoming the challenges of their conditions with the help and support of their educators. Disability Awareness Month concluded on Oct. 31.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention describes cerebral palsy as a “group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture.”
Leslie, 15, uses a motorized wheelchair, but only to get from place to place. Once she’s at school, she uses a walker. She sometimes wears leg braces, which help to build muscle tone; and for extra exercise, she pedals her tricycle around her neighborhood.
For months, staff members at LGMS helped her walk increasingly longer distances around the track until, one day late last school year, she finally made it all the way around. While Kiana didn’t completely realize the significance of her track accomplishment, she beams with pride every time her mother tells her she’s doing a good job.
“She is very proud when she does something new,” said Whitehead. “She was pedaling her tricycle around the neighborhood recently. She was working so hard and saying, ‘I’m doing it, Mommy.'”
Like many individuals with cerebral palsy, Kiana also has significant cognitive delays, but with her teachers’ help, she is making academic gains as well.
“She can recognize the letters in her name, and we’re working on general life skills,” Whitehead said. “Right now, we’re working on folding a shirt.”
Looking ahead to Kiana’s future, Whitehead said her daughter is a “social butterfly” who makes friends easily.
“She wants a job. She’d be a great greeter,” Whitehead said. “She just makes you smile.”