Five Mile grad found place to flourish

Toner handily cleared medical hurdles

Mirissa Toner may not have taken her first steps until age 3, but she’s been making great strides ever since. When she was born at 24 weeks gestation, she weighed only 1 1/2 pounds, and her mother, Christy Toner, received a grim prognosis. “They didn’t think she’d live,” she recalled. But her tiny daughter held on and beat the odds.

After a four-month hospital stay, Mirissa Toner came home. However, more challenges lay ahead. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and suffered hearing loss, among other medical issues.

Her mother found assistance and support at the Spokane Guilds’ School, where Toner learned to walk and talk. From there, finding the right school became more difficult. “We tried public and private schools,” said Christy Toner. “But it just didn’t work.” Finally, they heard about Five Mile Prairie School and the Mead Education Partnership Program. According to the school’s Web site, “At MEPP, the students’ education takes place in a variety of locations which may include home, other sites (colleges) as well as the Five Mile Prairie School.” It turned out to be the perfect fit for Mirissa. “By her second year she just flourished,” said Toner.

With the frustrations of her earlier educational efforts behind her, Mirissa Toner plunged into learning and made up for lost time. She’s graduating at 18, having completed all of the requirements, even passing the WASL. What’s more, she excelled at her senior presentation – something she’d dreaded.

“She was petrified about getting in front of community members,” said teacher Jane Wright. Mirissa Toner has speech difficulties related to her hearing loss. “She was afraid they wouldn’t understand her, but she bucked up and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ ” Wright added, “I’m so proud of that girl!”

Toner is proud of herself, too. She credits her success to the kindness and acceptance of the teachers and students at Five Mile Prairie School. “They are so nice and understanding,” she said.

While attending the school she discovered a passion for writing. In fact, Wright said, “I expect someday I’ll see her stories in print.”

This prolific author said she loves writing because “I can make up my own story that I can control and figure out what’s going to happen.” She’s currently working on four separate stories, but don’t ask her to choose her favorite. Like a parent asked to choose their best-loved child, Mirissa Toner laughed and said, “They’re all my favorite.”

She’s still deciding what to pursue after graduation. Her mother said, “She wants to work in child care study and she’s thinking about taking the pastry program at SCC.” Toner is confident Mirissa will succeed at whatever does. “She’s always had the attitude ‘I will do it myself,’ ” Christy Toner said. “And she’s the most patient person I know.”

Mirissa Toner stated her philosophy this way: “Just because you have something wrong with you doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything you want to do.” She paused, and her soft voice grew stronger. “You can try hard and believe in yourself.”

It’s an attitude that has certainly worked for her.

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