By Denise Dick
Raised by a single father, Devonta Fleetion played three sports in high school and graduated as valedictorian of his high school.
Michaela Miller had a baby boy during her junior year, was instructed at home when her doctor ordered bed rest, worked part time, graduated earlier this month and plans to study to become a dental assistant.
Shaniece Howell spent her sophomore year in a wheelchair but worked hard, graduated and plans to study chemistry and pre-pharmacy this fall at Youngstown State University.
They’re all 2012 graduates of the city schools: Devonta graduated from East High School, Michaela from Chaney and Shaniece from Youngstown Early College.
With hard work and a support system, they each succeeded despite personal challenges.
“I’m very proud of these students,” said Superintendent Connie Hathorn. “Their stories are very inspiring. I think it’s great.”
Devonta, 18, lived with his mother until sixth grade when she went to prison. He then moved in with this father.
He played football and basketball and ran track all four years of high school while excelling academically. He’ll continue his studies and his football career next year at Hiram College, where he’ll major in physical therapy.
“It was difficult,” he said. “I never got to experience my mom being with me. My mom was not there to see all of my accomplishments.”
But he and his father are very close.
“My friends like to come over because my dad and I are like brothers,” Devonta said. “My dad has always been there for me.”
While Michaela, 18, took her core curriculum courses at Chaney, she spent part of the school day in the graphic-design program at Choffin Career and Technical Center the last two years of high school.
Part way through her pregnancy her junior year, her doctor restricted her to bed rest, and she had to secure a tutor through the school district so she could keep up with her studies.
“I had to work hard,” Michaela said. “I was on home instruction and then I went to summer school. This year was easier. I attended school every day that I could, and my mom watched my son [Michal].”
She’ll study dental assisting through Choffin’s adult program next year.
Shaniece, 17, was born with a minor case of spina bifida and has a club right foot. She’s undergone several surgeries during her young life.
During her sophomore year, doctors operated to lengthen and straighten Shaniece’s leg. She thought it would be her last surgery.
“I found out three months later that I had an infection in my leg,” Shaniece said. “It was really deep in the bone.”
Because she doesn’t have much feeling below her right knee, she wasn’t in any pain. She continued to go to school but not without a few obstacles.
“I was in the wheelchair through my sophomore year of high school, but I always try to make the best of everything,” Shaniece said.
The worst part, Shaniece said, was having to ask other people for help.
“I like doing for myself,” she said.
She did have to ask for help when she had to maneuver through desks in class, and since she rode a school bus equipped with a wheelchair lift, someone had to be there to help her get into her house.
She wore a cast at the start of her junior year, and she continues with regular physical-therapy sessions.
Hathorn hopes the graduates’ stories inspire others.
“Their success shows that even though life can sometimes throw you a curve ball, you can still hit it out of the park,” he said. “I hope our school system and the employees had something to do with that. Each one of these students faced up to the challenge and focused on the solution instead of the problem. They could have just given up. They showed courage. They showed strength.”