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June 5, 2003


From: Record-Searchlight, CA - Jun 5, 2003

Michelle Teasley Record Searchlight

SHASTA LAKE — Like many other north state teens, 18-year-old Nichole Petig is a little anxious about graduating from high school.

"I'm nervous about walking across the stage in front of all those people," said Petig, a senior at Central Valley High School.

But Petig won't be able to hear her family and friends cheer when she crosses the stage tonight to accept her high school diploma. She's nearly deaf.

Petig is one of nearly 900 seniors from Central Valley, Foothill and Red Bluff high schools who will participate in commencement exercises tonight. Hundreds more will graduate Friday and next week.

School has been a bumpy journey at times for Petig, said her mother, Laura Sizemore of Shasta Lake. Petig was born hard-of-hearing, and doctors never figured out the cause, Sizemore said.

"She can hear a little bit, but not without hearing aids," which Petig wears in both ears, her mother said. "School was difficult for her. She complained about kids teasing her."

Petig had intensive speech and language therapy as a child so she could learn how to talk, Sizemore said.

"Her speech was quite a bit off," she said. "She still can't hear some of the letters."

In class, Petig can faintly hear her teachers' instructions with the help of an SN Trainer. The device includes a small microphone and transmitter that amplifies sound into her hearing aids.

Teacher Peggy Herndon had Petig in a life skills class as a freshman and in a Shasta-Trinity Regional Occupational Program professional cooking course this year. She said Petig is a "sharp" student who is shy and has a positive attitude.

"Having Nichole in class has been fairly easy," Herndon said. "She doesn't talk a lot, but when she does I have to listen a little closer. The students here treat her very well."

Petig has taken a full slate of college preparatory classes this year, including precalculus. She's also been on the yearbook staff. She'll graduate with a 3.2 grade-point average, officials said.

Petig's also become adept at reading lips, which allows her to communicate easier with her best friend, Lawrene Davis, 17. The two, who have been friends since seventh grade, are "joined at the hip," Herndon said.

"We go shopping together and to the movies. Sometimes we go to the lake with my parents," Davis said. "I've never had a problem understanding her."

Principal Bill Gundy said Petig is the only legally deaf student to take mainstream classes on campus during the past decade.

"To her, it's not a disability. It's a small obstacle she's overcome," he said. "I'd wager that a lot of students here don't know she's deaf."

Petig said she plans to attend Shasta College in the fall to study accounting. She hopes to transfer to Chico State University in two years.

Petig isn't the only inspirational student to graduate this year from Central Valley High School. Eighteen-year-old Marie Aguilar, who was born with spina bifida, has earned the respect of her peers and teachers with her persevering spirit, Herndon said.

Spina bifida is a congenital defect characterized by imperfect closure of the spinal column.

Aguilar, who uses a wheelchair, loves to spend time outdoors. Using special equipment, Aguilar has learned to rock climb, and snow and water ski, she said.

A black-and-white picture of Aguilar scaling a rock climbing wall is featured in the school's yearbook.

Aguilar said she doesn't know what she wants to do in her future, but she's excited about graduating from high school.

"She's very proud of her accomplishments," Herndon said. "I so admire her."

©2003 Record Searchlight - The E.W. Scripps Co . All rights reserved.