This is an essay I wrote for a class in Spring 2017 about my experiences as a student with a disability transferring to a new school, and why I wanted to earn a high school diploma instead of getting a GED.
My sophomore year of high school, especially the second semester, was awful. Over half of my teachers did not provide me with the accommodations in my IEP. This was due to a lack of resources and the difficulties that came with integrating assistive technology into the classroom. However, that didn’t make things any less frustrating.
- One of my teachers frequently reminded me how they wish I wasn’t in their class.
- Another teacher would say isn’t their problem I don’t receive accessible materials.
- The support staff would tell me to go away, or tell me I just need to continue to self-advocate, and everything will be better.
The only class I felt included in was band, which had always been a safe space for me. I only felt included in one out of my five classes.
- Dear High School Teacher
- Ten Spooky Inaccessible Assignments and How To Fix Them
- Why Students With Disabilities Should Join Band
A so-called great idea
One day, I was told that that there was something I could do, something all of the staff members agreed would be a wonderful thing. I could take five more classes, and then graduate the next year, one year early, receiving a general/standard diploma instead of the advanced diploma I had been working towards. Or, I could take two more classes and graduate with a modified IEP diploma the next semester. Alternatively, I could get a GED now and graduate at the end of the semester. Basically, they decided they wanted to get rid of me.
Because I had been in an educational environment where my disability was considered an inconvenience to everyone around me, I started seriously thinking about this. I’d been given pamphlets about these options, but I couldn’t see them, so I put them in my backpack. I researched the GED, put together a mock class schedule for the next year, and told my parents all about the ideas I had been presented.
They were horrified that this had even been presented to me as an option.
My family’s idea
My family started to consider moving to a neighboring school district. The school district had a full virtual high school program and would provide better opportunities for me and my brother. It would involve selling our house and leaving the community we had lived in for twelve years. We saw it as the only way I was going to graduate. My parents started doing research, and made an appointment with a guidance counselor at what would eventually be my new high school.
Meeting the guidance counselor
My mom and I went to meet with this guidance counselor. I kept thinking about the information I had been given by the staff at my school. When the guidance counselor went to ask me about scheduling, I repeated what all of the other staff at my old school had said:
“I’m five credits from graduating. I could graduate a year early if I don’t take band and choose a standard diploma!”
“No, you’re not doing that.” The guidance counselor immediately said, very matter-of-factly.
“You’re nothing special, it’s not like you’re a genius. No college would take you. Don’t get me wrong, though. You are a very smart girl, I know you will be successful here, and you will get an advanced diploma. Now tell me, are you interested in AP Language and Composition? How about statistics? I remember you said you are a band kid, the director here is adorable and everyone just loves him.”
Creating a schedule
By the end of the meeting, the guidance counselor had created a mock schedule for me. The schedule included two AP classes, math, science, video production, and a Microsoft certification class. I even had band in there, the advanced band class. My guidance counselor told me I was going to have a better experience than I had in my old school district. If things didn’t work out, I could always be switched into virtual classes.
Meeting my band director
The thoughts about graduating early completely left my head after I met my new band director. They told me how excited they were that I was going to be joining them. The cool thing was, they were a former student of my old band director. They described themselves as “a way cooler version of the other director.” They said they would be happy to help me whenever needed. I left the school that day feeling much more positive.
How moving helped me
I don’t want to think about what would have happened if I gave up, but I’m certainly glad I didn’t. My new high school wasn’t perfect, but it was absolutely wonderful. I graduated in 2015 with a 3.8 GPA and advanced diploma, something I never would have been able to do in my old school district. My guidance counselor, case manager, band director, and technology teacher all helped support me and continue to encourage me, even to this day, to continue advocating for myself.
I’m now in my fourth year of college in a highly competitive program, and thriving. I could have very easily been one of the many students who fall through the cracks and believe they are not worthy of receiving education. Luckily, that wasn’t me.
- How Do People With Vision Impairments Graduate From High School?
- Transitioning to a 504 Plan Before Graduation
If you relate to any of my experiences right now, dear reader, let me just tell you that you belong, and you are worthy of receiving a free, appropriate public education. I know it may seem like there are staff members who hate you, but please continue to stay in school and do your best with the circumstances given. College is a completely different experience than high school, I promise.