Fighting disabilities

Daily Pilot

They come from different backgrounds and high schools, but on Friday an estimated 130 students all had one thing in common: They were recognized in a Costa Mesa ceremony for completing classes through the Regional Occupational Program.

It's been an academic mainstay for decades in five school districts in Orange County, and its mission is to teach students a variety of potential occupations, offering as many as 75 classes to 13,000 students each year.

But every year, there are roughly 100 or more students who are honored for their unique character and ability to overcome the odds of either illness or disability.

There was Megan Venanzi, an Edison High School senior who kept dancing in her dance class despite her rheumatoid arthritis.

There was Danny Busch, a Corona del Mar senior who took firefighter classes, despite his mild case of autism.

And there was Namrata Abhyankar, a Trabuco Hills High School senior who took TV Video as a class and sought comfort in it after his father died in November.

"I consider this my second home," said Abhyankar, who attributes his long hours and hard work to his father, who succumbed to cancer. "My father had always encouraged me to explore my passion and will always be a part of every piece I produce.

"I love every aspect of film."

Abhyankar also loved every aspect of his classmates and teacher.

"I thank them for the laughs, the tears, the long days and groans that have become a permanent part of my life," he said.

As for Venanzi, perhaps a dancer forever at heart, she kept on despite the pain.

"I embrace my inner gimp," she said. "The typical ballerina is graceful, elegant and poised. I inherited clumsy, accident-prone genes. After dancing for 14 years, I knew stopping wasn't an option. The pain of life without dance seemed more unbearable than the physical discomfort dancing caused me."

Louie Rael the III, a Trabuco Hills High School senior, overcame severe dyslexia and dysgraphia, which renders his handwriting nearly illegible.

He took classes in the art of animation and computer graphics.

"I have used many of the skills I have learned in these classes in other areas," he said. "I used a number of tricks I learned in my graphics class."

Darlene LeFort, in addressing the audience of parents and students, said, "Learning is a treasure that follows the owner ... I'm sure these students will be adding to their treasure chests for the rest of their lives."

Linda Kannow, director of student services, said students who successfully complete their ROP classes go on to have better odds in finding jobs after graduating and stand more of a chance of getting raises.

"This is a very exciting time for those who work in education," she said. "This is a very exciting time for all the students."

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