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Gastonia students made high school journey together

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Davie Hinshaw - dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com
Rachael Baranowski and Victoria “Presley” Teigue are graduating seniors at Highland School of Technology in Gastonia. Teigue has spastic cerebral palsy and uses a walker. Close friends since freshman year, Baranowski has assisted her friend in any way she can. Teachers say the two are role models for the rest of the school.

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  • About this series

    The Observer asked readers and school leaders for suggestions of standout graduates. Today, we begin a series of stories about students who illustrate a range of accomplishments, including some who overcame significant obstacles.



GASTONIA

First in a series

As the June 14 graduation nears, Victoria “Presley” Teigue and Rachael Baranowski look back on a challenging but rewarding high school journey together.

The seniors at Highland School of Technology in Gastonia formed a close friendship that became a resource for them and an inspiration to others.

Teigue, 19, who has spastic cerebral palsy, can’t stand up straight and uses a walker.

Baranowski, 17, carried her friend’s books, helped her to class and assisted her in getting on and off the school bus.

In every way she could, Baranowski made sure Teigue was comfortable and that all her needs were met.

Teigue and Baranowski have known each other since they were sixth graders at Stanley Middle School, but they became best friends as freshmen at Highland.

Both were shy and nervous.

“I worried about opening doors and getting about,” Teigue said. “I don’t like asking for help. I wish I didn’t have to.”

Diagnosed at 15 months, she grew up dealing with severe limitations.

“That’s life for me,” Teigue said. “I can’t walk. My muscles can’t support my body weight. I can’t make them do what they need to do. It’s like I have another person in me, and it’s very annoying. It sucks. It’s unfortunate. But it could be worse.”

Before she arrived at Highland, she had missed a lot of school, including having to repeat first grade because of medical problems.

High school got off to a bumpy start for Teigue and Baranowski.

Neither liked speaking in front of other students but soon found themselves in that position.

“On the second day, I had to face the class and present a talk about myself,” Teigue said. “I don’t like the spotlight.”

Later, Baranowski had to do the same thing.

“I was very nervous and shaking,” she said. “But I did it. School pushed me out of my comfort zone.”

The friends scheduled as many classes together as possible. With the teacher’s permission, they would leave a few minutes early to get ahead of hallway crowds. Baranowski opened doors for her friend, helped her with lunch and picked her up if she fell.

“She always had a positive outlook,” Teigue said. “I felt like she was more than a friend. I felt like she was my sister.”

Baranowski felt the same way. After her father’s death last year, Teigue “helped me hold myself together through everything,” she said.

School officials say both girls are strong students with great attitudes.

“They’re hardworking, very driven and outstanding academically,” said Highland Principal Denise McLean. “They’re role models for other students – about how to persevere through things and adapt to situations.”

Guidance counselor Ami Parker said the girls support each other, and when they participate in and contribute to school activities, “you know they’re going above and beyond.

“They’re dedicated to being successful,” she said.

Their shyness didn’t disappear, but it faded a little as they got into the rhythm of school.

Both are going to Gaston College for two years. Then Teigue wants to study pharmacy at Wingate University, and Baranowski hopes to open her own bakery.

The friends stuck together through it all. Baranowski supported Teigue through three serious operations at Shriners hospital in Greenville, S.C., noticing that “even in the worst situations, she found something funny.”

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