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Continuing the journey, Tigard high schooler plans for graduation

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Audra Renshaw with her cat Kia. Renshaw, who has dyspraxia, is graduating from Tigard High School Friday.Audra Renshaw is getting her cap and gown ready. It’s time for the pomp and circumstance.

“I’m excited for graduation,” said the 18-year-old Tigard High School senior, as she fidgeted with her cap earlier in the week.

Renshaw was all giggles and smiles as she tried on her graduation garb. She has a good reason to be smiling — Renshaw has had a heck of a high school career.

She’s an athlete, prom queen and soon-to-be graduate — and she’s done it despite the obstacles chance put in front of her on the day she was born.

Renshaw has dyspraxia, a neurological disorder that affects her motor skills and other cognitive functions.

It’s a common disorder, though most have never heard of it. It manifests itself differently in different people, and while Renshaw has trouble with language and tires easily, she hasn’t let it slow her down.

Last weekend, she was the leading scorer on the Tigard Unified Soccer Team, which brought home the gold at the 2015 Unified tournament. Renshaw helped bring the team back from a 0-2 deficit, scoring eight goals.

“I love soccer,” she said before the game.

Earlier this year, she was voted Prom Queen by students at Tigard High School.

“I don’t know how that happened,” Renshaw said. “But my stepsister told me I was going to win. She was sure of it and my friends said so, too.”

Feeling included

Unlike many districts, which separate children with developmental disabilities from the rest of the student population, nearly all students with disabilities in Tigard-Tualatin are educated in traditional classrooms with rest of the students.

The policy, called “inclusion,” is meant to give students with special needs the attention they require, while also giving them a general education.

The model has been in place at Tigard-Tualatin for years, but has recently been picked up by other school districts across the country. Earlier this year, Portland Public Schools announced that it was considering an inclusion model for the first time.

Renshaw’s mother, Lisa Hanna, said her family moved to Tigard specifically because of its special education philosophy.

“We moved here from another district when we first realized that Audra would have some challenges in school,” she told The Times last week. “She was in a great inclusion preschool (in Portland), but when she went to kindergarten, all of a sudden that dried up. Those doors shut for us. We asked ‘What do you mean you can’t keep up with this model?’ I had heard about Tigard-Tualatin’s philosophy so we moved to this district so she could go right into this.” That decision has made all the difference for her daughter, Hanna said.

Renshaw has many friends, participated in Girl Scouts and earned a varsity letter for her work on the school’s equestrian team.

“There is no way that she’d have gotten that if she were in a special ed classroom,” Hanna said. “She loves everybody and everybody loves her. The school district and the community have rallied around her.”

Ticket to ride

After graduation, Renshaw’s immediate focus will be about one thing, she said: horses.

Horses are Renshaw’s true passion. Twice a week, she can be found riding her horse Milo at a stable in Scholls. She plans to work at the stables through the summer and said that when she gets older, she hopes to make working with horses into a career.

“I want to work with kids and horses,” Renshaw said. “I love horses.”

She started riding on the equestrian team her freshman year, Hanna said, and it has become an important part of her life, representing Tigard at competitions across the state.

“It helped her feel like she was a part of the school,” Hanna said. “And she has developed great friendships there. It is her avenue. She is able to compete on a normal level with everybody else.”

After graduation, Renshaw will continue to take transition courses through the district until she is 21.

With graduation fast approaching, Hanna said she is excited for the next phase of Renshaw’s life.

“That was always our vision when (Audra) was a kid,” Hanna said. “All we want for her is to do whatever everybody else does, like go to dances and sporting events and be a part of her school, and that has totally happened.”

Tigard High School’s graduation ceremony is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at 7:30 p.m., at Tigard High School, 9000 S.W. Durham Road.

By Geoff Pursinger
email: gpursinger@commnewspapers.com
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