Morgan’s Wonderland, PCI Education and WeAreTeachers are thrilled to announce the top 10 finalists for the Morgan’s Wonderland Contest. Nearly 250 teachers nominated a student and his or her family for a chance to win a free trip to Morgan’s Wonderland. Located in San Antonio, Morgan’s Wonderland is a 25-acre park designed specifically for children and adults with special needs, their families, caregivers, and friends.
Voting began on Oct. 4, when the submitted nominations were available online at WeAreTeachers. During the three-week period, the nominations received more than 56,000 votes, with the top 10 finalists receiving 35,000 votes, and the top two receiving 17,000 votes. We never expected this level of response for a first-time contest. In my humble opinion, the most awesome aspect of this contest is that not only did families and friends get behind each of these students – entire schools and communities rallied votes and support on TV and online! Over 56,000 people took the time to learn more about and vote for a student with special needs.
A panel of judges will review the top 10 finalists listed below, and select the grand prize winner, plus five runners-up, which will all be announced on Nov. 10. – STAY TUNED – THAT’S THIS WEDNESDAY!!!
The teacher who nominated the grand prize winner will receive a suite of PCI Education Curriculum products, including the PCI Education Reading Program and Environmental Print Series. Teachers who nominated the five runners-up will have the opportunity to select one of the following products from PCI Education: PCI Reading Program or Environmental Print Series.
We are in awe of every amazing student, parent and teacher who participated in this program, and we know that you will also be inspired by these incredible and touching stories. Without further ado, here are the top 10 student finalists and a little bit about each:
Brenden Baker – Abilene, Texas
Brenden is like any other seven-year-old boy who loves to go to school, eat chicken nuggets and play at the playground. However, Brenden is not average in size, as he is approximately 18 pounds and 26 inches tall. Brenden has Desbuquois Syndrome, an extremely rare form of Dwarfism. According to Brenden’s teacher Marsha Stewart, “Brenden is a very special part of our family at Bassetti Elementary School, and he reminds us often that it really is the “little” things in life that bring us real joy!”
Katherine Hobson – Stuart, Florida
Katherine has a delightful personality that motivates others around her. She is eager to please others and never gives up, despite living with Cerebral Palsy. Katherine has no functional use of her arms and legs, and is severely limited in her speech. Relying on others for her life sustaining care, Katherine appreciates each and every little thing that is done on her behalf. According to her teacher Doris Davis, “Katherine inspires me every day with her positive attitude and tremendous effort.”
Casey Rohrer – Hermosa Beach, California
Casey has a genuine smile and infectious laugh that has turned classmates into friends. He is unable to walk or speak on his own due to Cerebral Palsy, but with the help of a mobility and communication device, Casey is able to participate in the activities of every day school and home life. “Thanks to Casey, the students and staff at our school have developed an enhanced sense of empathy and understanding about his disability by learning to include him, speak with him and involve him as they would any other child at school,” said teacher Jeannine Madden.
Jose Mendez – Cicero, Illinois
Jose has a positive attitude and a creative imagination, despite his learning disability. He doesn’t let us difficulties impede his success, regardless of the challenge. Jose’s family is extremely involved and supportive, and works hard to ensure his success both in the classroom and at home. As he grows into a young adult, he is starting to become aware of his special needs. According to his teacher Julie Mensik, “This trip would help him gain more self-confidence, and illustrate that a goal is attainable with focus and drive.”
Presley Sones – Minden, Louisiana
Presley enjoys every bit of life and those around her. She has Cerebral Palsy, and uses a wheelchair for mobility and splints on her hands and feet for stability. Her family spends a huge amount of time and effort to support the needs of Presley, along with their other two daughters. “Presley comes to school with a presence about her that positively affects everyone around her,” said teacher Amy Lee, “and those that have met her hold a special place in their heart for Presley.”
Ellis Nesby – Mounds, Illinois
Ellis has Angelman syndrome, which is characterized by intellectual and developmental delays. He is learning to walk and uses a wheelchair, unless he is in his walker. Ellis is fortunate to have an outstanding mother and grandmother who see beyond his disabilities and recognize the wonders of this special child. “I enjoy working with Ellis because his eyes light up when I ask him to complete his work,” said teacher Gayla Dial. “Ellis can make me smile even though everything around me is pulling me down.”
Jacob Ingham – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Jacob has real zest for life. In spite of the many medical treatments and setbacks he has endured, Jacob always remains positive. His special needs result from a brain tumor that negatively impacts his physical mobility, memory, vision, and stamina. “Jacob has inspired me to be a more creative teacher,” said Tina Mansfield. “I’ve learned so much about working from someone’s strengths and interests versus focusing on remediating someone’s weakness.”
Ryland Reese – Amarillo, Texas
Ryland is a joy to everyone in his entire school district. He was born premature with Down syndrome and has been very sick over the past two years. However, Ryland is a fighter and has persevered through the challenges with his health, and is now doing extremely well. According to his teacher, Sherry Lawrence, “His parents take care of him like he’s a king. In fact, to everyone in our school district, he is king. We cherish and love this kid so.”
Sierra Craft – Houston, Texas
Sierra is a special girl who captures the hearts of others. She is confined to a wheelchair and nonverbal due to Cerebral Palsy, but that doesn’t stop her from smiling and trying to communicate with others. Sierra is very observant, and willing to try the same activities as others regardless of her disability. “Sierra inspires me to tell others that even though a child may have special needs, they can still learn and do things that we may think are unreachable. Sierra has changed the minds of teachers and staff as to what students with special needs can accomplish,” said teacher Aimee Erskins.
Lauren Tebbe – Wapakoneta, Ohio
Lauren brings such joy to everyone she meets through her sunny personality and quick wit. She is a twenty-one-year-old student with severe delays in the areas of cognition, communication and academics. Lauren arrives at school each day, entering door with a smile, a vigorous good morning to all, and a handshake for each of the staff. According to teacher Nancy Maute, “We should all strive to be a little more like Lauren and this world might be a little better for it.”
Overwhelmed by the support of the student’s teachers, family and communities, PCI Education and WeAreTeachers are seeking additional resources to possibly send more than one child to Morgan’s Wonderland. In addition, the sponsors are seeking more special education materials to send to classrooms across the country.
Due to the success of this year’s contest, Morgan’s Wonderland, PCI Education and WeAreTeachers have committed to hosting the competition again next year.
What are you doing in your classroom or community to support students with special needs? Post a comment and let us hear your thoughts!