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May 18, 2003

Those who inspire others clearly heard

From: Grand Island Independent, NE - May 18, 2003

Among reading, writing and 'rithmetic can be heard the sweet sound of inspiration, a daily derivative of the educational process when students encounter extraordinary teachers.

So it goes for Michella Honas' 14 special education students at Barr Middle School. "I try to set a pattern for them, to inspire them, to be an advocate for them," she said in her cozy quarters at Barr's DLP room. "I've been there and done that."

"There" is living with her own disability, hearing impairment; "that" is becoming a teacher, despite it.

Honas is finishing her second year at Barr after teaching 10 years in Kansas. Next year she'll be moving to the Senior High special ed department.

Honas was already 2 years old when her parents had her hearing tested. "My uncle, who has a deaf son from meningitis, noticed I wasn't responding right. I have no other family with hearing loss," she said.

That makes audiologists wonder about Honas' two sons, both of whom are hearing impaired.

She has a 97 percent loss in one ear and 85 percent in the other. "It's profound. My sons' loss is more moderate."

Growing up deaf in a small town in western Kansas 30 years ago could have had a huge impact on a child's opportunities. Honas was having none of it. Nor was her mother. "My mother, with her perseverance, paved my way. I went to public school. I did what the other kids did," she said.

Learning lessons

Except she and mom made many trips to Denver to see doctors. Her mother drove her 40 miles each time from their home in Tribune for speech therapy. Honas was learning lessons she now passes on to her own children and her students.

And she learned by her wits. "Since I was 2 before I was diagnosed, I had already found ways to communicate. I learned to read lips," she said.

She eventually found her way to Barton County Community College on a dance scholarship. "I had developed a love of music. When our dance team was in a gym, I couldn't hear anything with all the noise (not uncommon with a hearing aid). Our assistant coach would go up into the stands and mouth an eight count. That's how I danced."

Honas eventually graduated from Fort Hays State with a degree in special education. She begin inspiring students in tiny Shallow Water, Kan., where she stayed for a decade before her husband's work brought them to Aurora.

"We love it here," she said, noting that the first winter was cold and snowy and kept her from getting out to meet people, but they now think Nebraska is great. She said the Aurora schools' support for her boys has been "awesome."

She learned to sign, which she does with her sons, at Fort Hays. "It was an elective. It opened my eyes to a whole new world," she said.

Mutual admiration

And now it's on to high school. "The administration here (Barr) has been very supportive of this move. I wanted a new challenge. I like to go out and do things, prove that I can do anything anyone else can and more. I'm aggressive about that," she said.

Her new gig will team her with some students more "profoundly" disabled than the group she has worked with at Barr, a few of whom wandered in and out of our interview. The smiles and the "Hey, Mrs. Honas" from the hall made it clear that mutual admiration accompanies inspiration.

"I've been the only (special education) teacher here. I'm ready to work with others, to team up, to trade ideas," she said. She's excited that she will be working with six of her students from Barr who will be headed for GISH themselves.

Honas said she neither likes attention nor sees herself as a pioneer, teaching with a disability. But she does admit -- and believes in the message -- that if she can do it, so can others, whether they are her students learning to be successful wherever their lives take them or future teachers refusing to let a disability get in the way of a chance to inspire.

The Grand Island Independent © 2003