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Dani Cota

Dani Cota (right) and her mother, Jessica Cota, greeted the Lincoln North Star pep band and cheer squad when they visited Dani at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in July.

KRISTIN STREFF/Lincoln Journal Star file photo

Dani Cota is making a comeback, and her friends are still supporting her, this time with pizza.

It may not be the senior year at North Star she’d imagined, but after the summer she had, it’s pretty amazing.

In May 2013, Dani was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal tangle of arteries and veins in her brain that began causing severe headaches the end of her sophomore year.

On June 2 — her 17th birthday — she had two seizures. Ten days later, after being flown to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, she had a stroke and lost movement on her left side.

The rare congenital condition occurs in 1 percent of the population, and the large growth in Dani’s brain is at the top of her brain stem, which makes surgery too risky.

She spent most of her summer recuperating at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, where members of the North Star band, cheerleading squad and flag corps arrived en masse to cheer her up, the Gator fight song blaring from the parking lot, along with cheers and a lot of hugging.

Dani had been a captain of the flag corps and had planned to spend her summer practicing. Instead, she worked to regain movement through hours of occupational and physical therapy each day.

Then, a week before school started, she went home. She was at North Star for the first day and has been there each day since, going half days, finishing the credits she needs to graduate.

Dani walks with a cane now, but she still uses a wheelchair at school. She graduated from the day program at Madonna, which means she’ll have fewer days of therapy now, said her mom, Jessica Cota. She’s beginning to get feeling back in her left hand.

Dani has been at all the flag corps competitions, cheering fellow members on. And she performed the school fight song with them at one football game.

At the end of August, Dani had a radiation treatment to shrink the mass at her brain stem. She has suffered no more seizures.

Through it all, her friends have been there, cheering her on. On Monday, the North Star performing arts boosters are sponsoring a fundraiser in conjunction with Pizza Ranch at 8420 Lexington Ave.

The restaurant will donate 20 percent of the proceeds from diners who patronize the restaurant between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. and let servers know they are supporting Dani.

Federal surveys, gay and transgender students and LPS

The recent controversy over gender identity training at Lincoln Public Schools made national news again, this time as an example of the need for more national, reliable data on LGBT students and the struggles they face.

The article in Education Week reports that federal surveys that track school climate will for the first time begin including questions about sexual orientation or gender identity of students.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Study, which asks questions about issues such as bullying, drug use and suicidal thoughts, will begin asking students about how they would best describe their sexual orientation.

Also, according to the article, the U.S. Department of Education and Justice’s School Crime Supplement and the Civil Rights Data Collection will ask principals to report bullying that occurred because of students’ sexual orientation or religion.

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The article notes that such surveys have been a powerful tool for other student groups. For instance, data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection that showed racial and ethnic minorities disciplined at higher rates than other students were used to push for changes in school disciplinary practices.

Education Week mentions the LPS controversy, which drew 200 people to a recent school board meeting, when pointing out how little information is available on transgender students and how having reliable data could help make the case for additional teacher training.

Although such broad-based federal surveys haven’t included LGBT students, advocacy groups have been doing their own studies for years. In the latest one from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 74 percent of students said they were verbally harassed for their sexual orientation, 55 percent because of their gender expression.

But the online nationwide survey of nearly 7,900 LGBT students between ages 13 and 21 also found that just 35 percent of students in schools with LGBT-inclusive curriculum felt unsafe, compared with 60 percent at schools without such curriculum.

College savings, reading and the state treasurer

Fifteen young people ranging in age from 6 to 16 from Lincoln, Hastings, Pierce, Beatrice, Grand Island and Omaha recently got a little push toward college from State Treasurer Don Stenberg.

Stenberg has spent the past couple of years focusing on the importance of financial literacy and college savings for students, and publicizing the state’s college savings program. This time he added summer reading to the mix.

Stenberg partnered with the Nebraska Libraries Commission and local libraries, entering more than 20,000 kids in a drawing after they'd completed summer reading programs. He drew five winners from each Congressional district.

The prize for each of the 15 winners: $529 in a Nebraska Educational Savings Trust college savings account, and $250 to the student’s city library. Lincoln City Libraries got a check for $1,250 on behalf of the five Lincoln winners.

First National Bank of Omaha, the program manager for NEST, provided the scholarships and library donations.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or


Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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