99.9 Percent Just Won't Do

Teacher receives MDA National Personal Achievement Award

by Bill Greenberg on October 1, 2002 - 4:16pm

Amy Dunaway-Haney does not "persevere in the face of overwhelming odds." She is not "making the best of herself in spite of being dealt a lousy hand."

Amy Dunaway-Haney

And Parade Magazine Publisher and CEO Walter Anderson did not present MDA's 2003 National Personal Achievement Award to Amy Dunaway-Haney on the MDA Telethon because she's done remarkably well "for someone with a disability."

No, when it comes to Dunaway-Haney, 32, forget the clichés. She was selected to receive the MDA Personal Achievement Award because, as much as anybody you're likely to meet, she is a living embodiment of the word "achievement."

'The lucky one'

Amy Dunaway-Haney was born in November 1969, the third of four children. When she was 8 years old, her parents, Cecil and Sue Dunaway, received the news that their daughter had limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. There was no known history of the disease in her family, and none of her siblings are affected.

"I was the lucky one," she says, with a rueful chuckle.

But the Dunaway family's response to Amy's diagnosis offers an important clue to understanding the human dynamo that young Amy would later become.

"My parents became real involved with MDA, doing all kinds of fund raisers and helping organize the local chapter," she recalls fondly, noting that her sister and brothers got into the act as well.

"They've all gone to summer camp as counselors," she says proudly. "They've been wonderful."

Sue Dunaway also formed a parents' support group to help other local families who, like her own, were trying to cope with the challenges of having young children with neuromuscular diseases.

Not only is that support group still in existence some 22 years later, but today, Dunaway-Haney serves as the group's facilitator.

Over that same span of time, Amy Dunaway-Haney has been an MDA leader — as goodwill ambassador for the Dayton, Ohio, area (1980-81), serving on MDA's National Task Force on Public Awareness (1997-99) and receiving the top achievement award this year.

From high school to homecoming queen

When Amy was 15, the Dunaways moved into a home that would accommodate Amy's new wheelchair. Dunaway-Haney, the only student at her new high school

who used a wheelchair, quickly won over her classmates. She sang in the chorus and show choir, served on the student council and was elected to the National Honor Society.

After high school, Dunaway-Haney received a scholarship to Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio — the first wheelchair user to attend as a full-time resident student.

As in high school, Dunaway-Haney dove headfirst into college life. She pledged as a member of the Delta Gamma sorority, and developed a recreational program for children and adults affected by a variety of physical and emotional disabilities. In 1991, Dunaway-Haney was voted BGSU's 70th Homecoming Queen. And in 1992, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in Spanish education.

'The kids are going to eat you alive!'

Teachers Kathleen Oliver (left) and Amy Dunaway-Haney conducted a Spanish camp for elementary school students this summer. They were assisted by two of Dunaway-Haney's high school students, Holly Linton and Erin Washburn (right). Photos by Michelle Murphy

Before the ink on her newly issued teaching certificate had a chance to dry, Dunaway-Haney accepted a position as a Spanish teacher at Kettering Fairmont High School, a sprawling suburban school near Dayton, with a student population of some 2,500.

"People said to me, 'The kids are going to eat you alive. How are you going to discipline big high school kids? How are you going to keep up with them?'" she recalls. "That was a big concern — for about five minutes. I've had to educate the adults more than the kids."

In her teaching career, she often tells her students: "99.9 percent just won't do." It's a theme she teaches by deed as well as words.

Dunaway-Haney teaches intermediate and advanced Spanish and serves as faculty adviser for the school's Spanish Club, the Spanish National Honor Society and the Sophomore Class Council. In 2000, she received a Jiffy Lube Excellence in Teaching Award, and this year she was presented with the prestigious Freida J. Riley Teaching Award (see "MDA Happenings," Quest, June-July 2002).

"Everything I do is different — everything. And yet the kids just go with the flow," she explains. "I drop something, one of the kids will get up and pick it up. When it's time to use the VCR, somebody automatically gets up, because the TV is mounted way up on the wall, and hooks it up for me. I have probably 20 to 25 kids a year that are my student assistants. The neat thing is, I don't think they even think twice about it."

And despite — or perhaps because of — her reputation as one of the school's more demanding teachers, Dunaway-Haney seems to inspire her students in ways that even she finds surprising.

"I have had countless students that have gone to MDA summer camp [as counselors]," she says proudly. "They tell me they're going to become geneticists or something because of their experiences at MDA camp, and because of what they've learned."

The respect she has for her students is both obvious and mutual. One former student, Kathleen Oliver, is now a Spanish teacher at the University of Dayton (Ohio).

"I have learned so much from her, and there is no other teacher I admire more," she wrote in nominating Dunaway-Haney for an award. "I could only hope to touch and inspire as many students as she has throughout her teaching career. She gives 110 percent to her students every day."

James Schoenlein, KFHS principal, wrote in the Riley award nomination package, "In my 25 years in education, I have never seen a better teacher!"

Another career

One day during her first week as a teacher, at a time when most new teachers are still trying to get their bearings, two of Dunaway-Haney's students came to her after school to discuss abuse they were experiencing at home.

"I didn't know what to say, I felt totally unprepared," she recalls. "I decided right then that I needed to get back to school to learn some more things."

At first, she thought a school counselor's course would help her better advise her students.

"But it really didn't teach me a lot about the whole emotional issue thing. I had some kids with behavior issues, so I went on and studied professional counseling and clinical counseling — because once you start, you might as well not stop."

By 1998, Dunaway-Haney had completed her practicums for master's degrees in school counseling and clinical counseling and added counseling to her résumé.

"I have had students who are time bombs, and you have to be really careful," she explains. "I finally feel prepared for that. Now, when I think I have a kid that has substance abuse or behavior issues, I find myself confident to handle that."

So now, while most teachers spend their "spare time" grading papers and recharging their personal batteries, Dunaway-Haney is busy helping others.

"I see everything from people that have anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome — from age 5 to 85," she reports. "I do a lot of marriage counseling, actually. I never intended to get into that aspect of counseling, but there aren't a lot of counselors who feel comfortable doing that, and I do.

"And I really, really like it," she adds. "You have to be really direct and straightforward, and that fits my personality pretty well."

What wheelchair?

Dunaway-Haney doesn't think of herself as a disabled person. She's not in denial — she's just too busy.

"I have years where I forget to tell my kids why I'm in a wheelchair," she says, laughing. "It'll be February or March and they're finally in that place where they become brave enough to ask."

But scratch the surface, and she talks openly about the challenges of living with a disability.

"We have our savings account, my husband and I, and then we have our van/wheelchairs account," she explains. "People think that the hardest part of having muscular dystrophy is not being able to be a cheerleader and not being able to run. But for me, one of the hardest parts is just being able to afford it.

"If you want to be a vital, working person or be out and about, doing your thing, it takes a lot of money," she adds. "You either have to be really impoverished or you have to be really loaded just to get around and be able to work and do all the fun things you'd like to do."

When she's not working, she likes to relax with her husband, Tim, a supervisor at an automotive parts factory. The couple enjoys swimming, music, movies and travel, "just like anybody else."

Hopes and dreams

One of the main reasons Dunaway-Haney chose to become a Spanish teacher is her love for Hispanic culture and warm places, which makes you wonder why she's still living in Ohio.

Having traveled extensively in South America, Mexico and other parts of Latin America, would she ever consider moving there?

"My husband and I have talked about it. I love hot weather and the desert, so that's the dream," she says. "If they ever find a cure for MD, I'll live in a pink stucco house on the beach in Mexico.

"And I'm going to drive the smallest little red sports convertible they make," she adds, laughing. "Here, I have a huge accessible van and everyone always knows where I am. Accessible vans are wonderful, but they're just not cool."

That's the essence of Amy Dunaway-Haney. Through her commitment to her students and her counseling clients, regardless of all the awards and recognition, she's genuine and down to earth.

As she anticipated her trip to Hollywood to receive the MDA Personal Achievement Award on live television, all she could say was, "I just couldn't wait to meet Mattie Stepanek!"

And when asked what her "secret" is — how she manages two careers and a marriage and busy family life — she simply replies:

"No one ever expected me to live a limited life."

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