May 11, 2018

‘You want God to win’: Teen’s desire to live her dream leads her to overcome odds and fight for new law

Sixteen-year-old Paige Moore poses in the House of Representatives chambers at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. The sophomore at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis successfully lobbied earlier this year for a new law that will benefit her and other students at private high schools in Indiana. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Sixteen-year-old Paige Moore poses in the House of Representatives chambers at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. The sophomore at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis successfully lobbied earlier this year for a new law that will benefit her and other students at private high schools in Indiana. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

To fully appreciate the courage of Paige Moore—a courage that has helped her change a law that will benefit her and other students in Indiana—consider doing one thing:

Think back to when you were 16.

It’s an age when most people savor the songs of their youth and enjoy being surrounded by their friends; a time when they need to be accepted, and they yearn to be part of something bigger than themselves; a time when they also long to live the dreams that define them as an individual.

At 16, Paige fits all these descriptions. The sophomore at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis loves listening to music and being with her friends. She longs to be part of a team that reflects her passion for the game she loves. And she works hard in her classes, striving to one day continue her education at an Ivy League college and dreaming of a future as an author and a teacher.

Yet life is also marked by pronounced challenges for Paige, a member of Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Parish in Indianapolis.

“Paige has Meniere’s Disease,” explains Lisa Beckwith, Paige’s counselor at Roncalli. “It’s a disorder in the inner ear that causes episodes in which you feel you are spinning—vertigo—and you have fluctuating hearing loss with a progressive, ultimately permanent loss of hearing.

“Another significant side effect she is experiencing are ‘drop attacks.’ Drop attacks are sudden, spontaneous falls when a person is standing or walking. She usually has no warning that they are coming on.”

It’s a daunting present and future for a 16-year-old. Yet Paige is all smiles as she sits in a room at Roncalli and talks about the law she helped change, the school she loves, and the faith that guides her life.

Seeking the best of two worlds

The story of the Indiana law that Paige helped to change begins with her love for her Catholic faith and her high school.

“Everyone at Roncalli has been so nice and helpful,” she says. “I love the religion classes and the Masses. I have friends here. I like the classes.”

Still, one of the main challenges for her at Roncalli is communicating with others. She’s able to understand her teachers who wear a transmitter that sends sounds to her hearing aids. But in group discussions with other students, where comments are coming rapidly and in different directions, her lip-reading ability doesn’t serve her well.

“I don’t know everyone, and not everyone knows I can’t hear too well,” she says. “It’s a struggle.”

By the end of her freshman year at Roncalli, Paige and her mother Keri began exploring a possibility that they hoped could offer her the best of two worlds.

They were aware that a state law allowed public school students to stay at their high school while also accessing services at the Indiana School for the Deaf in Indianapolis. Mother and daughter hoped that Paige could do the same, splitting time at Roncalli and the School for the Deaf, where she could learn the intensive sign language she will need to communicate when she completely loses her hearing. Instead, they found a major obstacle to that hope.

The wording of the state law didn’t allow access to the School for the Deaf to students at non-public schools. And while mother and daughter discussed Paige leaving Roncalli for a public school, neither wanted to make that switch.

“She didn’t want to lose what she has here at Roncalli,” Paige’s mother says. “And the way people help her and the morality here, it’s what I want for her.”

They turned for help to Roncalli’s principal Chuck Weisenbach, who sought the assistance of Indiana state Representative Robert Behning and John Elcesser, the executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, which represents more than 400 non-public schools in Indiana.

Behning proposed House Bill 1420 to change the law’s wording to include students in non-public schools, so they could also have access to services at both the School for the Deaf and the Indiana School for the Blind in Indianapolis.

Then he enlisted Paige to make her case before the members of the Indiana legislature. Even when she was told that a change in the law might not occur before she graduated from high school, she pushed forward for other students like her.

‘I got to speak my heart out’

“I was so scared, so nervous. I was shaking,” says Paige, recalling her testimony earlier this year before the House and the Senate members in separate meetings. “At the same time, it was a very cool experience. I got to speak my heart out, to let them know this is the way I feel.”

Paige shared how she didn’t want to give up her experience at Roncalli, and how she felt she needed its honor classes and Advanced Placement courses to prepare her for applying to Ivy League colleges.

She also stated how visits to the School for the Deaf made her feel she had discovered another place where she felt at home among similar young people, where she could learn sign language and where she could play the sport she loved—basketball.

“She touched the hearts of the legislature by telling her own story,” Elcesser says. “A lot of the legislators came up to her afterward and wished her well.”

Behning adds, “She was able to testify with class and with style. It’s great when you can have someone her age who can articulate her position so well. She’s a great advocate not only for herself, but for other students.”

Still, the vote on the bill came down to the last hour of the last day of the regular session on March 14. Immediately after it became one of the last bills to be passed, Elcesser texted Paige’s mother with the news.

“There was lots of screaming, lots of jumping, lots of clapping and high fives,” Paige recalls with a huge smile. “I’ve been wanting this to happen for more than a year. I wanted to be at Indiana School for the Deaf because they understand me. They get me. I also wanted to be at Roncalli because of their academics and the religion, and I’m Catholic. I get to be in both worlds.”

‘You want God to win’

She will start that adventure when her junior year in high school begins in August. Her “cheerleaders” believe she will make the most of her experience.

“Even with the worse types of symptoms and with just doing her homework making it worse, she still has earned outstanding grades and her way into our honors and AP classes,” says Beckwith, her counselor. “She is passionate, determined, driven and personable.

“She works harder than any student I’ve ever worked with, so I will not be surprised about the very impressive things she will most certainly show us she can do in the future.”

Elcesser notes, “She’s looking for other ways to advocate for people who are deaf or have hearing losses. She wants to make an impact on other students as well. She’s got big goals and a lot of drive. It will be interesting to see where she ends up.”

At 16, Paige says her optimism and her prayer life help guide her through the challenges of the present and toward the dreams of her future.

“Sometimes, I’ll be like, ‘Why God?’ Because lack of communication is hard, school is hard, life is hard. When I get upset, sometimes I don’t pray. And things get worse. Sometimes I don’t understand why I have to be hard of hearing. Why do I have to lose my hearing? But then I say, ‘Let go and let God.’ That’s one of my favorite sayings.”

She pauses before she adds, “Everyone is struggling with something. You can’t stop. Once you stop, the struggles win. You don’t want the struggles to win. You want God to win.” †

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