Thursday, September 28, 2000

Purcell Marian

Diversity reigns at high school

        This has been a mean month.

        It began with the death of a police officer at the hands, more or less, of a 12-year-old boy. The boy, too, died. Then another boy, 14, fired a gun inside his school. A 12-year-old was in court on charges he bit a teacher and tried to strangle an assistant principal.


        So I think I should be forgiven if I look for some good news. If the news-maker is young, even better.

        I am on the trail of Purcell Marian's homecoming queen, Shannon Brinkman of Madeira. I hang around, reading the hallway while I wait.

        A sign says the East Walnut Hills school is Catholic, coed, multiracial and urban. Except for the Catholic part, it's pretty much the world Purcell's 710 students will find when they leave.

Shannon Brinkman
Shannon Brinkman
        “Our mission statement: Purcell Marian High School embraces and promotes inclusivity in all areas, respecting diverse academic levels, faith, traditions and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

        Easy to say.

        Meanwhile, I am still waiting for Shannon, who is — according to all accounts — pretty reliable. Works at Kings Island on weekends. Pep squad, never misses a game.

        I am early. Possibly unwelcome. The principal, Jan Kennedy, disapproves. She says election of the school's homecoming queen is “no big deal.” Shannon is simply popular, well-liked and got the most votes from her classmates.

        Just then, quietly, Shannon arrives, the treads on her wheelchair making not a sound. She uses a walker sometimes, but only for short distances. Weighing only 3 pounds at birth, Shannon has struggled at things that come easily to most of us. Breathing, for instance. She was on oxygen when she was tiny. She has had lots of speech and physical therapy.

        “Stubborn,” her mother, Shelly, says, “otherwise, she probably wouldn't be alive.”

        Shannon is patient as I ask her the same question two or three times. I have trouble at first understanding what she is telling me. We are both a little nervous. I am afraid I am not up to the proper telling of a story about this thoroughly admirable girl whose classmates have chosen to honor for all the right reasons. She is afraid I will make her late for class.

        Karen Matuszek, the school's director of special programs, says students with special needs are routinely included in life at Purcell Marian, “not just in the classroom, but on student council and sports and in the drama department.”

        No. Big. Deal. It's certainly not news. She and the principal are agreed on this.

        I would most respectfully disagree. There are still schools where students are afraid that if they wear the wrong shoes, they will not have anyone to sit with in the lunchroom. Never mind having shoes with soles that will never, ever be scuffed.

        There are clubs out there designed for people who want to play golf and who know in advance that they do not want to tee off with people of color. There are places where people are suspicious of anybody who doesn't look or sound like they do.

        So, I hope I will be forgiven if I insist I have found some good news, some news worth passing along. I hope Purcell Marian won't mind if I congratulate them on their popular, pretty homecoming queen. And on the students who chose her.
       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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