There’s not much that can or will stand in the way of 10-year-old Carolina Martinez.
Not Muscular Dystrophy.
Not being in a wheelchair.
Not severe breathing problems.
And certainly not the MCAS test.
Martinez, who developed a very rare form of Muscular Dystrophy (MD) as a one-year-old baby, has overcome a tremendous amount of obstacles, and now the Garfield School fifth-grader has become one of the highest scoring students in the school on the MCAS.
Her mother, Sara, accompanies the young girl every day at school and she sees physical therapists during the day, but for the most part, she stays in the regular classroom listening to her teachers and absorbing information like a sponge.
And, she was one of the first students with such a challenge to go the route of mainstream education at the Garfield.
“Carolina was a bit of a trailblazer,” said her physical therapists, Pat Herlihy and Monica DiGenio. “We now have several other students at the Garfield who face similar challenges, but Carolina was the first and she opened up the doors for these other children to have an easier transition.”
Principal Sal Cammarata said that Carolina is an inspiration to all the students in the school, as well as to him.
“We’re proud of the fact that we can educate a child with such tremendous challenges,” he said. “For a kid with her challenges, to see her coming here every day is tremendous. It motivates me to want to be a great principal and to have everything in place for her. It’s also a credit to the staff who help her every day.”
However, it’s more a credit to Carolina, who has come to understand in the last few years her condition, and it’s something that – at the tender age of 10 – she is not going to allow to define her life.
Already, on last year’s MCAS test, she scored advanced on the math portion and proficient on the English Language Arts. Her scores were some of the top scores in all the fifth grade.
“When Carolina was very little she asked me why she couldn’t walk and do things other kids can do,” said her mother. “I’ve been working very hard on that. She understands very clearly. She says it’s not a problem. She told me that she can do everything she wants to do. She said that even if she’s in a chair, it won’t stop her from doing whatever she wants.”
Said Carolina, “I want to be someone important and I’m going to be. I want to design children’s clothing, especially for kids in wheelchairs.”
Sara Martinez said that she and her husband, Luis – both natives of Guadalajara, Mexico – moved to Revere many years ago and have lived on Standish Road every since.
In 1999, Sara became pregnant and gave birth to Carolina at the Mass General.
The first year was like any other for mother, father and the new baby. But gradually, Sara began to notice that Carolina had trouble breathing at night.
“Sometimes I had to pat her on the back all night long just so she could sleep because she was having trouble breathing,” said Sara. “It was a tough time.”
Around her first birthday, Carolina was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. At first, it was believed that it wasn’t so severe and she would eventually walk.
That did not happen, and they spent many months in the hospital addressing her breathing problems and other complications as a result of her condition.
Once things became a little more stable at age three, Carolina reported to the Garfield for pre-school. She’s been there every since.
Nevertheless, it was first grade that brought Carolina out of herself and helped her to become one of the most popular kids in the school.
“With a couple friends from kindergarten, Carolina really blossomed,” said her first grade teacher, Meghan Laracy. “She read a little when she came, but she left reading everything.”
Laracy said that she remembered one particular time when they were outside digging for fossils. Carolina didn’t know what to do, and wondered if she should just wait on the sidelines. Laracy said it was a moment when she decided to make Carolina a full part of the classroom.
“I took her hand and put it in a bucket of dirt and told her she was going to search for fossils too,” said Laracy. “She said, ‘Really?’ Then, she dug her hand around and found a shell and a key. She had to get dirty too.”
The Martinez family and their extended family that also lives in Revere have taken a similar approach throughout Carolina’s life – trying to never put boundaries on her.
“We always try to do the best for her,” said Sara. “If she wants to try to do the swing, we always tried to find a way to help her do those things. We never wanted to tell her she couldn’t do something without trying.”
Laracy said it was just as much a learning experience for her as it was for Carolina.
“I was a little nervous at first because I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “Carolina has done everything academically on her own and come so far…Carolina really showed me that through everything, she can really persevere.”
Her story of dogged perseverance will continue next year at the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) Middle School for the Arts. Her mother will continue her early mornings with Carolina, getting up several hours ahead of time to prepare the chair, medical devices and other equipment.
They will continue their much more difficult – but very fulfilling and happy – lifestyle with a lot of gratitude.
“After the diagnosis, the doctor told us not to worry, but as time passed, we noticed the change in her,” said Sara. “It was hard, but at the same time, I always said I wasn’t going to cry or get sad or upset because it wouldn’t help her. I always said I wanted a daughter who was happy and smiled a lot. My husband and I always tried to make Carolina happy. She’s happy and smiling now and she’s everything we ever wanted.”