T.A. Dugger student sees handicap as a challenge  hand


Photo by Dave Boyd
Brittany Skeens, a sixth-grader at T.A. Dugger Junior High School, suffers from cerebral palsy. The 12-year-old plays bells in the school band and describes her handicap as a challenge rather than an obstacle.

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com


   Brittany Skeens is one determined young lady. Born with cerebral palsy, the sixth-grader at T.A. Dugger Junior High School turned 12 years old on Jan. 31.
   Brittany does not let her handicap deter her from doing the things that other students do. She plays bells in the school band and participated in the Christmas Parade in December. While the others marched, Brittany rode in her motorized wheelchair. "I thought band would be fun, and it has," she said.
   According to her aide, Becky Porch, Brittany is an exceptionally bright student.
   "She's very determined, very eager to learn, and a very good student. She received all A's the last grading period," said Porch, who accompanies Brittany to class and helps her with her lunch tray and books.
   The two did not know each other until the beginning of the school year, when Porch was assigned as an aide to Brittany. "We have really become good friends and we have adjusted well to each other. Brittany has adjusted really well to junior high school," Porch said.
   Porch said Brittany has a very good sense of humor, and like most girls her age likes to talk. She also maintains her independence and doesn't rely on Porch to escort her to every class. "I meet her there. When one class is over, she always says, 'I'll meet you at the next class.' This allows her to mingle and interact with other students between classes," Porch said.
   In addition to participating in the Christmas parade with the band, Brittany also attended two football games as a band member.
   She attended East Side Elementary School, and, so far, her handicap has not been a real obstacle. Brittany's mother, Mrs. Doris Perry, said her daughter has undergone two hip surgeries, the latest one in April 2003. Brittany will return to the hospital in April to have the screws and plates removed that were surgically placed in her hip last year.
   "I take her to school, but she rides the bus home," said Perry. "Brittany enjoys school, and she just looks at her wheelchair as her means of getting around. Her biggest challenge has been junior high school. I think she had a fear of it at the beginning, but she has overcome that and is really doing well."
   Brittany says her favorite subject is math and she is a "pretty good speller." She enjoys watching television, especially the Game Network. Listening to music also is a favorite pastime as well as playing computer games and being with her friends. "I also enjoy reading," she said.
   Brittany's goal is to become a veterinarian, and, until then, she takes care of her pet turtle, Wilbur.
   Her handicap? "To some, being in a wheelchair would be a handicap, but to me it is a challenge, and it has enabled me to live a better life and to be a normal person. It has made me more determined," she said.