Maria Adams moves the amber-toned colored pencil in short, smooth strokes on the page as she fills in a fluff of fur on the puppy’s face.
Working from a photo with a grid drawn over it, she works her way around the edges of the piece. Only a few more days of class at Keller High School to complete the project for Pre-AP Drawing 3. Only a few more days left in Maria’s senior year.
On May 27, she’ll walk across the stage at UT-Arlington’s College Park Center and get her diploma. In the fall, she’ll start classes at Tarrant County College Northeast Campus.
“I’m going to go to TCC to get my basics, but I don’t know what I want to do. Something with science, maybe forensic science,” she said.
Maria, who is known by her classmates for being funny and shy, sounds like a lot of 18-year-olds.
But her family and friends know it’s been a long, amazing journey for Maria, who was born without hands and lived the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage.
From Russia to love
Maria came to the United States in 2006 with help from a Christian charity, International Guardian Angels Outreach, to get prosthetics and learn how to use them, but Maria didn’t like the prosthetics, said her mom, Jeanne Adams. Another goal of the charity was to help disabled children find families to adopt them.
Maria stayed for a few months in South Carolina before Jeanne and Tim Adams heard about her and wanted to take her into their home. The adoption process was lengthy. Charity officials got Maria’s visa extended a few times with the reason of training her to use the prosthetics she didn’t like.
After about 18 months in the United States, the family was required to travel to Russia to complete the adoption process, Jeanne Adams said.
While there, Maria had to stay in an orphanage for ten days, and she had forgotten how to speak Russian.
“It was really funny,” Maria said. “I knew no Russian and all these kids were asking me questions in Russian. I don’t remember a lot of it.”
Jeanne Adams said Maria didn’t learn to speak any language until she was about 6 because she was kept in an orphanage for babies. Once in the United States, she picked up English in just a few months.
Going back to Russia was scary, but Jeanne Adams encouraged her daughter-to-be to pray, and all went well, even though the Russians they met didn’t understand why Americans would adopt her.
“They thought it was so odd that someone would adopt a handicapped child,” Jeanne Adams said.
The Adams have four biological children, including a 22-year-old daughter who is disabled and requires constant care.
“Maria didn’t seem very disabled to us,” Jeanne Adams said.
They loved her from the start and were happy to add Maria to their family, Jeanne Adams said. Younger sister Alyssa, now 15, was always a big talker and helped Maria learn the language. Brothers Ethan, 25, and Cameron, 24, and older sister Ashley complete the family.
Even though Maria is three years older than Alyssa, she was always smaller in size and wore a size 4T at age 6. She also had a tough time in her early school years.
Jeanne Adams said Maria took a long time learning to read, and teachers discovered she was dyslexic.
“She’s had to work very, very hard, but she’s very resilient,” she said.
In sixth grade, Maria still had trouble reading, but her English teacher at Bear Creek Intermediate School, Renae Garrett, helped her and encouraged her to persevere.
Now she enjoys reading—especially classics like “The Secret Garden”—but, “I can’t write an essay to save my life,” Maria joked.
Math comes easily.
“If you give me a formula, I’ll probably understand it,” she said.
‘I just draw what I see’
Art also comes easily.
Leah Hale, a Keller High senior and classmate, said she was in art class with Maria back in sixth grade at Bear Creek Intermediate School.
“She blew everyone away even then,” Leah said.
Maria uses both her elbows, a few very tiny fingers and a rubber band just above her right elbow to help her manipulate pencils, pens and paintbrushes.
“I know how to hold a pencil, and I can work really fast,” she said. “I’m not good at being imaginative. I just draw what I see.”
The family dog, Yorkie mix terrier Oreo, is a favorite subject.
Maria recently was recognized for artistic excellence after achieving a superior rating at the Visual Arts Scholastic Event (VASE) regional contest.
Her colored pencil drawing of a chess board that had dark, looming game pieces at one end and colorful toys at the other end, caught the attention of her drawing teacher Chris Stickel.
He sees it as capturing that scary transition from childhood to adulthood.
“It’s like going from high school to the real world,” Stickel said.
A photo of Maria posing with the piece was posted on Facebook, where it drew the attention of State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake).
Capriglione invited the family to Austin and read a proclamation last month in Maria’s honor on the floor of the house. The proclamation reads, in part: “Maria Adams has inspired innumerable people through her artistic vision and determination to overcome challenges and pursue her dreams, and she may indeed look forward to a future bright with promise.
Maria was overwhelmed by the attention.
“I had to stand on a little stage, and I didn’t want to make a bad impression,” she said. “I’m very shy, so I was thinking, ‘when is this going to be over?’”
Despite her shyness, Maria has a lot of fans at Keller High.
Stickel said, “I love having her in class. She’s such a wonderful student.”
While drawing, Maria is focused and determined, he said. When students are required to critique the work of others, Maria always sets a positive tone.
“I can’t stress enough how she affects the entire room in a positive way, even when we’re being critical,” Stickel said.
Classmate Aubrie Yarbrough, a 16-year-old junior, said she enjoys having Maria in her art and astronomy classes.
“I like talking to her about school because she’s always very enthusiastic and positive, and she’s got a great sense of humor,” Aubrie said.
Maria’s just counting down the days left at Keller High.
This summer, she’ll work on her driving skills and on getting her license so she can drive herself to TCC in the fall.
“Driving’s hard, and I’m not very good at it right now,” she said.
What does she look forward to this summer?
She grinned and said, “No school.”