Thursday, November 27, 2008

Seventh grader wants to be first blind U.S. president

From the St. Paul, Minn., Pioneer Press:

Hannah Harriman, who was elected to Stillwater Junior High's student senate this fall, already has aspirations for higher office.

The seventh-grader wants to become the first blind U.S. president.

Teachers and staff members say the 12-year-old has the intelligence and drive to do it. In her first few months in junior high, Hannah ran for student government, performed in her first drama club play and spoke to hundreds of her classmates about her disability.

Doris Thaemert has been Hannah's intervener — a special education teacher who helps blind or deaf students — since fourth grade. In that time, she has seen Hannah develop and take on additional leadership roles.

"I've never seen a harder worker with so much integrity. And I've been teaching for a long time," Thaemert said.

English teacher Liz Tomten said Hannah exudes self-assurance, whether it is volunteering to read in class or talking in front of a couple hundred of her classmates. In September, she talked about her disability, the Braille Note computer she uses to type assignments and how people can help her get around school. Hannah also threw in a few jokes for good measure.

"She is just so past all that petty adolescent stuff," Tomten said. "Her peers think of her as a pretty smart person. They respect her and listen when she speaks up."

Preston Posthast is in two of Hannah's classes this year and has been one of her best friends and sight guides since they were in kindergarten at Lily Lake Elementary. The two teamed up Friday to tackle a history crossword puzzle during social studies class.

Preston read the crossword questions, such as who founded the colony of Maryland, and the two brainstormed to answer them.

Hannah and Preston already have decided that in ninth grade they will run together for Student Council president and vice president. But they both admit they're competitive, and they can't decide who gets to run for the top office.

"I'm sure it's going to involve a lot of games of Risk," Preston said, referencing a favorite board game. "And she just loves to attack."

Hannah said her first three months of junior high have been great because her teachers have helped her so much with the transition. And she said she is especially grateful for Thaemert, who has helped her thrive in her classes.

Student government and drama have made the junior high experience even more fun and challenging.

"It's a lot of hard work," Hannah said. "But you get a better education if you put hard work into it."

Tomten said she knows Hannah will go places, especially because of her passion for social justice.

"I'm voting for her the second she turns 35," Tomten said of Hannah's presidential aspirations. "She's going to do great things. She's so aware of others and what people need. I just can't wait to see what she does with her life."