CRESTVIEW — You could say one Davidson Middle School student has a winning attitude.
Jerrold Gardner, 14, of Milligan, is the recipient of Cox Cable’s Inspirational Student Hero award for his positive attitude despite the challenges he has faced.
The eighth-grader was diagnosed with cerebral palsy shortly after birth. Brain abnormalities or injuries contribute to the disorder, whose symptoms can include tremors, unusual gait, tight joints and loss of coordination, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Jerrold — who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around — also dealt with being shuffled around following his mother Aimee’s death when he was in the fifth grade. He lived with another relative immediately following the incident, but the arrangement did not work out.
Then his stepfather, John Gardner, stepped in to raise him.
"He took ownership of me," Jerrold said. John, a retired U.S Marine, served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now works as a contractor, Jerrold said.
"Jerrold has been through some tough stuff and there is not one single thing that was brought on by his actions," Carol Cassity, a DMS special-needs teacher, said. "In the three years that I have known Jerrold, he has never complained — and that is enough to be inspirational to me."
But there’s more to it than that.
Davidson’s special-needs program has some 40 students, whom Jerrold supports several ways, Cassity said. He helps teachers understand students who can’t clearly speak, reminds classmates to take their medication and has mediated arguments between students.
"Jerrold has compassion for others," Cassity said.
"It really hurts me to see (students) upset," he said. "It really makes me happy to see kids having fun."
Additionally, he participates in the Buddy program, in which general students assist special-education students with schoolwork.
Ethan Mitchell, 13, assists Jerrold in the program.
Ethan helps Jerrold with his language arts and reading assignments.
"It’s a lot of responsibility ... you have to work with them as much as possible," he said.
Jerrold said he enjoys working with Ethan.
"He's a good kid; me and him joke around and pick on each other," Jerrold said. "At times it can be tough, but we overcome it."
Jerrold and 34 other Okaloosa County students will be recognized at a private ceremony May 14 at Emerald Coast Convention Center in Fort Walton Beach. Each student will receive a medallion and certificate from Cox Cable, which has produced the program nearly 20 years.
"Each school gets to nominate a student who they believe inspires or is a hero to others," Cassity said, adding that the school’s faculty voted for Jerrold to receive this year’s award.
"It feels good," Jerrold said, adding that academic honors and the award’s recognition have made this a memorable school year.
"I get here and I get on the "A, B" honor roll ... it’s like 'Wow,’” he said.