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Exceptional students receive John Cary Scholarship

Max Shengelia believes in setting long-term goals as a motivator to be better in several areas of his life. Even if those goals are not reached, he said he will have made progress. He wants to inspire others.

Shengelia is one of five local recipients of the John Cary Scholarship, awarded annually since 2016 in honor of the late John Cary, former superintendent of Special School District [SSD]. Awarded by Special Education Foundation, it honors students who reflect the characteristics Cary most admired — resiliency, courage and determination.

Other recipients included Caroline Bellido, Conor Elliott, Alex Love and Ana Roja.

Max Shengelia

Shengelia, who is profoundly deaf, transferred to Parkway in the third grade. He has excelled in every classroom since — straight through his graduation this spring from Parkway West High. He completed high school in just three years with a course load of largely advanced placement/honors classes and a 4.0 cumulative GPA.

“I believe that with the support of the Special Education Foundation, Max will continue to demonstrate an exceptional commitment to academics, the deaf community, and become a strong role model for deaf youth in whatever field he chooses,” wrote Zachary Jodlowski, the SSD teacher who nominated Shengelia for the John Cary scholarship.

Part of his community involvement is his participation in the school’s American Sign Language club.

“My role mostly consists of encouraging deaf students to come and socialize with hearing club members to facilitate immersive learning with native speakers,” he explained. “There is certainly a social aspect to the club, but students are required to stay voice-off for the duration of meetings which can be even more productive for attaining fluency than classroom activities.” 

Shengelia also has served as president for the last three years for the local Deaf Teen Club.

“We actively reach out to deaf youth in the St. Louis metropolitan area so that they can come to our meetings and meet like-minded individuals who often relate in upbringing, experiences and language. Many deaf students find themselves as the only deaf person at their school so we hope to increase their exposure and give them new perspectives through our club meetings,” he said. “The social aspect of club aside, we regularly invite deaf career professionals and representatives from deaf-friendly colleges like Rochester Institute of Technology [RIT] and Gallaudet University annually.”

Shengelia will be attending RIT this fall, studying web and mobile computing. Ultimately, he hopes to work in a front-end website development field.

“The John Cary Scholarship has definitely helped me get closer to this goal as I have had some concerns about taking out student loans with RIT’s higher tuition rates. The scholarship removes a significant chunk of my remaining tuition and has made me hopeful that I may be able to pay off the majority of my loans with earning from co-ops I will do while enrolled in RIT.”

Caroline Bellido

Caroline Bellido, of Parkway West, will also attend RIT this fall, where she plans to study interior design.

Bellido is an adventurous young woman who loves travel and learning about other cultures. She took AP Art History, then traveled to Europe and was fortunate to see many of the pieces of art firsthand. She also visited Costa Rica during her sophomore year on a biology class study tour. Her chaperone said of her experiences there: “One night [Caroline] accompanied me on a hike across a very scary suspension bridge over a turbulent rainforest river at midnight! She even conquered her fear and removed her cochlear implant to go whitewater rafting. She sat behind me and followed what I was doing. Caroline is generous of heart, hardworking and brave, and she is willing to dive in and take a risk even if it scares her.”

Being willing to “dive in” is a trait that served her well as the president of West’s American Sign Language club.

“Being deaf in a hearing world takes a lot of patience, time, understanding and persistence. I not only use these skills to help me hear and communicate but to do my homework, take a test and even learn a new language or memorize the lyrics to my new favorite song.”

She is confident that she can handle anything life and college throw at her.

Connor Elliott

Wildwood resident, Connor Elliott, recently graduated from Eureka High and plans to attend the University of Missouri to become a conservationist.

“I’m not sure specifically what type of conservationist I want to be, but I do know I want to work with animals in some form or another. I was surprised that I was one of the few that received the scholarship, and I am very honored to be awarded it,” Elliott shared.

Despite being diagnosed with autism and struggling in social situations, with obsessive-compulsive disorder and in maintaining emotional equilibrium, Elliott has exemplified resiliency, courage and determination.

Nominator and SSD social worker Tia Wilson wrote: “Connor is a strong and determined self-advocate, who seeks out and accepts help to better himself and his future. He has clear goals and lets nothing get in the way of achieving them. He can now be flexible and modify his goals and accept less than perfection, but he will always stay focused and determined on long-term goals.”

In addition to managing a home lawn care business, Elliott demonstrated those traits when he rejoined Boy Scouts after a few year’s hiatus and achieved Eagle Scout in just four years. To accomplish that feat he had to earn all the required merit badges, accumulate community service hours, hold a leadership position and complete his Eagle Scout project all before turning 18.

“I worked with the Wildlife Rescue Center for about a year, planning out construction of the squirrel boxes [which are] kind of like a birdhouse for squirrels in order to rehabilitate them back into the wild,” Elliott said of his Eagle project.

He credits a lot of his academic and emotional success to Rockwood educators.

“My teachers have been very helpful in my studies, offering help and providing me with accommodations if need be. However, I feel how they have helped me through my issues has been more impactful,” Elliott said. “With this aid, I learned to control my emotions and become proficient in socialization with other people.”

Alex Love

Alex Love, of Marquette High, has no problem interacting with people. A scholar-athlete, he was in the National Honor Society and on the varsity football and track and field teams. He also was recognized with the St. Louis Suburban All-Conference Sportsmanship Award.

But one of his most impressive accomplishments was overcoming personal issues to change his high school trajectory.

Love moved from grades of Cs and Ds to the honor roll level because of his increased self-esteem and his dedication to challenging himself. His junior year, his football coach told him to get stronger if he wanted to make varsity the next year. He increased his physical performance by planning his meals, adjusting his sleep schedule and staying hydrated — and he made the team.

“When I think about young people I have encountered who will truly make a difference in this world, Alex is one of the first to come to mind,” said Marquette High counselor Paula Ake. “Not only does he work hard to achieve his goals in academics and athletics, more importantly, but he is also a kind soul who sees the good in all people. I have watched him mature into an outstanding leader. He strives to demonstrate excellence in all he does. When faced with an obstacle that tries to stand in his way, he pushes through it with strength and dignity.”

Ana Roja was born in Ecuador and has profound bi-lateral hearing loss. She moved to St. Louis at 5 years old and went to St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf until transferring to Parkway West Middle School for sixth grade.

She said she relies more on her other senses and is a visual person. With plans to attend RIT, she would like to study graphic design.

“The use of visual communication is a great part of being a graphic designer,” Roja explained. “For me, it is very encouraging to present a message through the use of different resources and media.”

Jodlowski said Roja has blossomed in her self-advocacy and persistence.

“Even when she encounters difficulties or disappointments, Ana demonstrates great resiliency by pushing forward, and continuing to work hard and remains a bright personality,” he said.

Her speech pathologist, Andrea Gregg, also has praise for her.

“Ana is a hard-working, empathetic, creative and kind individual. In our sessions together, she has become an inquisitive learner and a detailed story-teller. She loves to pull experiences from her academic and social world into her multi-layered narratives. She is always eager to apply new vocabulary, concepts and knowledge into her self-expression. In addition, her consistent family support and rich cultural experiences have played a strong part in setting the foundation for her creativity, open-mindedness, consistent academic effort and heartfelt connection to her community,”
Gregg said.

[Editor’s note: Special Education Foundation contributed in part to this article.]
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