Stephani Jones and Michaela Ellington
Knock on any door of the Farmingdale School District, and you’re going to find a success story. This one was shared by Farmingdale High School Special Education teacher Stephani Jones about freshman student Michaela Ellington. Michaela has Cerebral Palsy (CP), which affects her ability to move, speak, and maintain her balance and posture.
Michaela and her family moved from Connecticut to Farmingdale last summer. She enrolled in the 9th grade and was put on a five-year plan to graduate. “She came in with a lot of changes to deal with—new state, new home, new friends, new school,” said Ms. Jones. “Michaela needed to be in a wheelchair because we were concerned about safety—the high school is a big building to navigate—but once I learned how smart she was, and how driven she was, I began advocating for her to strive for even bigger goals. She earned six credits in her freshman year— that’s huge! I’ve never had a student make so much progress so quickly.”
“At my old school the aides did everything for me. Here, I learned to do for myself,” said Michaela. She joined Student Council and the Digitech Club, and went from a wheelchair, to a rollater, to walking with assistance. She recently walked down the aisle at her mother’s wedding!
“This girl is remarkable. You just don’t see this kind of progress—academically, physically—in one year. Her parents are so supportive and she’s so happy,” said Ms. Jones. “She came in knowing that there were so many barriers—minority, female, disability—but she has so exceeded expectations.”
“Michaela never ceases to amaze me,” said her mother Debbie-Ann Ellington-Tulloch. “She was born prematurely at 24 weeks, and after a devastating brain injury around two-weeks-old, we were told she would not see, speak, eat, or walk on her own. But she has been determined since she made her entrance on this earth. As a tiny preemie in the newborn intensive care unit, she would pull her breathing tube out. They were amazed at how strong this tiny little thing was. In a sense, she is my role model, and besides being smart, she is a ball of love. My husband and I both see her potential and feel it’s our duty to support her, and Ms. Jones has been wonderful at recognizing her abilities and helping us push her to be great.”
Over the summer, Michaela participated in the Extended School Year summer program, hosted at Albany Avenue Elementary School. It ran for six weeks/five days a week/three hours per day, with a K-12 curriculum devoted exclusively to students with special needs.
"I am very pleased that Farmingdale is able to offer such an extensive continuum of programs and services for our students with disabilities,” said Donald Cassidy, Director of Special Education K-12. “Michaela's progress is a testament to her determination and the dedication of Ms. Jones and the other talented staff members that have the pleasure of working with her."
When Michaela enters 10th grade this fall she looks forward to taking more cooking classes, like Extreme Cupcakes and Appetizers—something she greatly enjoyed last year. “My favorite dish we made was from Haiti—plantain empanadas!”
Michaela is speaking faster, getting better with her Chromebook, and learning how to code. She already has a career in mind. “I like coding, and I want to become a coder of games,” she says with a smile.
With the continued support of the Farmingdale Special Education Program, there’s little doubt that Michaela will succeed in whatever she sets her mind to.