Thursday, April 18, 2002
Dispatch Accent Columnist
For a dozen years, kindergartners at Berwick Alternative Elementary School have learned about reading, writing and multiple sclerosis.
"I really encourage the questions," said volunteer Barbara McInturf, 49.
Good thing: Kindergartners let very little get in the way of their curiosity about her condition.
"How do you eat?" they ask McInturf.
"Do you sleep in the wheelchair?"
"Will you ever get better?"
McInturf, once a teacher herself, first rolled a bit hesitantly into a Berwick classroom 12 years ago, when her daughter, Megan, was in kindergarten.
"She wheeled up to me and said, 'I want to volunteer in your classroom,' " former teacher Peggy McCann recalled. "I said, 'We'd love to have you.' "
The warm reception at the East Side school, 2595 Scottwood Rd., meant more than anyone else could know, McInturf said.
"That just opened the world for me."
She became a regular at the school, then added a second, Windsor Academy, to her schedule.
Husband Eric, a Madison Township firefighter, drives her once a week to Berwick, where she volunteers in both kindergarten classrooms.
She usually spends two hours helping students with reading.
"With 25 kids, I can't do one-on-one," said Berwick kindergarten teacher Debbie Andrews. "When they go out into the hallway with Barb, they have a chance to talk. Sometimes they'll have something on their mind. With Barb, they're having that special minute. They love her."
McInturf has lived with multiple sclerosis since age 18: As a sophomore at Ohio University in Athens, she experienced the first symptom -- numbness.
MS involves a breakdown in myelin, the protective insulation surrounding nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. The disease interferes with the transmission of nerve signals.
McInturf, with a degree in education, taught for three years in the Morgan County schools, where she met her future husband. She also worked as an aide in Groveport schools and earned a master's in education at Ohio State University before her daughter was born in 1984.
After the birth, her condition worsened.
These days, unable to move her arms and legs, she operates her motorized wheelchair with a chin control. ("One of the kindergartners said I have a very strong chin," she said.)
When teaching, McInturf went beyond academics, said McCann, who retired four years ago.
"The only thing she couldn't do was use her hands, and the kids became her hands. They held the material for her. She was a wonderful role model for these kids."
This week, Berwick is saying thanks.
Teachers gave McInturf a T-shirt signed by students with whom she has worked. Students also wrote messages of thanks.
McInturf "taught me that disabled people can do the same things as people who aren't," fifth-grader Rika Goudy wrote.
On Saturday, Principal Debbie Grant and four teachers -- Andrews, Sharon Hinkel, Monica Martin and Marti Mercuri -- will participate in the MS Walk, organized by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, to raise money for research and support services.
McInturf is grateful simply to have her help accepted.
"I feel really blessed to be able to be here."
It's not too late for high-school seniors to enter the latest essay contest.
In 500 words or less, describe the experience of searching for a college: What was fun? What was frustrating?
The writer of the best essay will receive $25.
Send submissions by Tuesday to College Hunt, in care of Joe Blundo, The Dispatch, 34 S. 3rd St., Columbus, Ohio 43215
Include your name, high school, phone number and e-mail address.
Joe Blundo is an Accent columnist.
Copyright © 2002, The Columbus Dispatch