Freshman pursues full high school experience

Despite disability, Quiñonez finds inclusion in RHS programs

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Freshman pursues full high school experience

Miguel Quiñonez helps his daughter Cristina Quiñonez with her homework after school. (TARAH JOHNSON/EYE OF THE TIGER)

Miguel Quiñonez helps his daughter Cristina Quiñonez with her homework after school. (TARAH JOHNSON/EYE OF THE TIGER)

Miguel Quiñonez helps his daughter Cristina Quiñonez with her homework after school. (TARAH JOHNSON/EYE OF THE TIGER)

Miguel Quiñonez helps his daughter Cristina Quiñonez with her homework after school. (TARAH JOHNSON/EYE OF THE TIGER)

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Each day, the bell indicating second lunch rings through campus. Throngs of students walk rapidly to their respective lunch spots, but amidst the rush of his own students math teacher Miguel Quiñonez weaves his way to the door to train his eyes on the dance room in hopes of catching a glimpse of his daughter, freshman Cristina Quiñonez.

Cristina is 15-years-old and was born with Down syndrome. Miguel follows up with each of Cristina’s teachers in her interactive class schedule.

(TARAH JOHNSON/EYE OF THE TIGER) Quiñonez follows along as Cristina Quiñonez reads through an assignment.

Miguel Quiñonez follows along as his daughter Cristina reads through an assignment. (TARAH JOHNSON/EYE OF THE TIGER)

“The primary purpose for Nina to be in full inclusion classes stems from our values of fairness,” Quiñonez said. “She is the youngest of our three children and it is our mission to have her experience a full education just as her siblings did.”

On the long awaited day of freshman orientation this year, Cristina felt an undeniable distance from her freshman peers, according to Quiñonez. Trying to make a way for herself in the foreign high school environment was daunting, and her father understood it.

“On that first day of freshman orientation, I can only imagine her feeling of exclusion, yet it was not intentional by anybody,” Quiñonez said. “I pulled her aside and whispered to her, ‘Somewhere amongst these 500 students, you will find the friends that you will share your life with.’”

As this year is already in full progression, so is Cristina. Untethered to the common misconceptions surrounding special needs students, Cristina’s schedule consists of hands-on classes such as Leadership, Dance, Drama, and Health and Safety.

According to Quiñonez, the decision to place Cristina in these inclusive classes stems from the common goal most every parent wishes for their children: acceptance.

“Our dreams for our children are for them to experience a full, happy and productive childhood,” Quiñonez said. “Then for them to transition to young adults and become independent thinkers and ones who give and strive to help others in return.”

Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21, and this additional genetic material alters the course of development. With any mental illness comes the almost inevitable misconceptions and stereotypes yet, according to Quiñonez, Cristina has not experienced them at RHS.

“I’ve always been impressed with our community here at RHS. Particularly the students. I’ve witnessed genuine caring and empathy,” Quiñonez said. “I believe that the students here, given the chance and opportunity to interact with my daughter, would realize the extent of how much they have in common with her.”

According to Quiñonez, he recognizes and accepts that Cristina will have challenges in her high school career and beyond, but stresses that her disability is not a defining factor in how she should be treated.

“Of course she will not experience high school the same as everyone and her challenges will be her own,” Quiñonez said. “But she was born with Down syndrome and this intellectual disability is no reason to deprive her of a full high school experience.”    

Quiñonez makes sure to keep an eye on his daughter whenever he can during the day. According to Cristina, her dad is not only an inspiration, but her favorite teacher at RHS.

“My dad is a math teacher. He is so funny and goofy,” Cristina said. “He helps me with my work and helps me read books. My dad is an inspiration, and I talk to him every day after school.”

(TARAH JOHNSON/EYE OF THE TIGER) Quiñonez dances with her peers in Pilar Steiner's Beginning Dance class. Miguel Quiñonez has found RHS a welcoming community for Cristina in her journey to pursue a normal high school experience.

Quiñonez dances with her peers in Pilar Steiner’s Beginning Dance class. Miguel Quiñonez has found RHS a welcoming community for Cristina in her journey to pursue a normal high school experience. (TARAH JOHNSON/EYE OF THE TIGER)

To Cristina, RHS is where she can find a family, a home and the highlight of her day.

“Roseville High School is most like my family. It’s like a home to me,” Cristina said. “It’s my favorite part about my day.”

According to Cristina, in the midst of her busy daily schedule, drama is both her favorite class and a stress reliever. It’s a place where she can release all her worries.

“Drama is my favorite class, because when I’m onstage, I just let it all go,” Cristina said.

Drama teacher Ashley White has noticed a considerable rise in Cristina’s confidence since the start of the school year and appreciates the positivity she brings to the class.

“Cristina is a bundle of joy, happiness and has a great sense of humor,” White said. “From the first day of school until now, her confidence has grown. She is becoming more confident everyday to perform in front of the class and partner with different people.”

According to White, the openness and creativity Cristina shares with the class is joyful and fulfilling. Not only is White proud of Cristina, but the entirety of drama class is as well.

“Cristina writes her own short plays and will perform them in class. It’s truly a joy to watch,” White said. “I’m proud of her for her openness in the class and her complete willingness to try anything. The entire class is always proud of her.”

While Cristina’s independence is a focal point for her first year at high school, she’s already met friends around RHS who are there for her if needed. According to Cristina, senior Sarah McFadyen is one of her many who both helps her out with her school work and supports her.    

“My friends help me with my homework and my tests,” Cristina said. “My friends here are Sarah and Kamri. I eat lunch with them and they’re really nice.”  

McFadyen said she only just met Cristina this year, and is already impressed with her dedication and her caring demeanor.

“I met Cristina my second day of school this year, and she’s just so sweet and caring,” McFadyen said. “She’s not afraid to be herself, and she just loves to make other people happy. And that’s really nice.”

McFadyen believes Cristina taking part in more hands-on classes is a reflection of her desire to succeed and thrive.

“Cristina taking these challenging classes shows that she works really hard in school,” McFayden said. “She’s just trying to be like everybody else and be her best. She’s just the best.”  

It is Quiñonez’s belief that everyone has the common goal on campus to have their own part in society, and Cristina is on the road to finding hers. Quiñonez said his daughter wants to find her place on campus just as everyone else does, and it’s unfair to deny her that right because of her disability.

“Cristina is like everyone here on campus, she wants to have a place where she is valued and is included of. She wants to make friends, to laugh, to learn, and be challenged to grow,” Quiñonez said. “We all feel this desire no matter who we are. It is imperative to respect the dignity of each and every person.”