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Star student at Barringer Academic Center inspires teachers, classmates with positivity

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- COURTESY OF HEIDEE MENDOZA
Christine Mendoza, 10, is a star fifth-grade student who excels despite the challenges that come with living with spina bifida.

On paper, Christine Mendoza is an all-star.

At 10 years old, she’s in her school’s highly gifted program, has served on student council, is active in Science and Math Olympiad clubs, and loves reading, crafts and swimming.

In person, she’s even a greater presence when you come to discover that she’s managing all these feats despite the fact that she cannot walk.

Christine has spina bifida, a congenital condition that happens when the spine is not properly formed. But with a positive outlook, Christine doesn’t let that stop her.

“She is a very strong role model of, ‘You don’t let anything get in your way.’ In her book, there are no excuses,” said Lisa Ashworth, her fifth-grade teacher at Barringer Academic Center. “She does not have the word ‘can’t’ in her vocabulary.”

Christine has broken the record for most push-ups at the school – at least 75 – and said she’s learned the value of speaking up in class. She likes to abandon her walker at recess and climb around on the playground. And she represents Barringer as a student ambassador.

Her teacher last year, Mindy Passe, said Christine changed the culture of her class to one of compassion.

“I’ve been teaching a very long time, and she’s one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Passe said.

She recalled a time last year when her class was working on building a community garden. One of her students stopped and said the garden rows needed to be set wider so Christine’s wheelchair could fit. Another student wrote a letter to the first lady asking for more wheelchair-friendly equipment on the playground for Christine. And the class worked with her as a team on all of their Field Day activities at the end of the year.

“She’s so kind and loving herself, and they look out for her,” Passe said.

Ashworth said Christine has had a similar impact on her class this year. “They all want to be around her. She emanates positivity.”

Christine said earning good grades are important to her, and that she can’t choose a favorite between math, social studies and science. She’s co-president of the National Honor Society and was vice-president of student council last year.

And you won’t find her sitting idle. “If I don’t keep busy, I kind of feel like I’m unproductive, so I must do something,” she said.

Christine said she’d like to be a doctor when she grows up because she likes helping people. “I want to keep people well and healthy,” she said.

Her mom, Heidee Mendoza, described her as an optimistic person.

Her teacher, Ashworth agreed. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a negative comment come out of that child’s mouth.”

Christine, who was wearing a shirt covered in rainbow-colored peace signs, didn’t seem to think her optimism was that noteworthy.

“It seems to me it’s easier to be nice and happy instead of saying, ‘I need to worry about this, this, this, this and this,’ ” she said.

Her fourth grade teacher, Passe, said she’s just glad she had the chance to have Christine in her class: “She inspires people.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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