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Breaking the Stereotype of Special Education

special-needs-stories-backpack-and-notebookThe odds were that I'd be an academic burnout statistic. Less than one percent of dyslexics have it as severe I do. Yet in just over two years, I went from being a middle school student who could not read and could barely sign his name to a young man entering a top-rated high school with all honors courses. Through targeted intervention during middle school, the love and support of my family, and my continued determination and mental energy, I started my senior year at Farmington High School as an honors student with an overall B average in my classes.
Jermiah Piescik was diagnosed with severe dyslexia in sixth grade. A determined individual, he used this diagnosis to motivate him to be transferred into a mainstream public school. He also used his accommodative equipment to help him learn more about technology and eventually to find a niche for himself as the leader of the technology support group at his high school.
I was fortunate. My mother had me diagnosed when I was in sixth grade; the conclusion was of a bright dyslexic who was for all practical reasons illiterate. My school district sent me to Ben Bronz Academy (BBA) as a seventh grader the following school year. BBA is a private school in West Hartford, Connecticut, for learning disabled students. Many consider it a "reading boot camp." My first year at BBA consisted of eight-hour school days in which seven of my nine classes focused on reading or writing. It was difficult for me to become accustomed to this new type of learning. Up until this time, I was never in a formal school. My mother knew the public school system was not set up to handle a student as disabled as myself, so she decided I should be home schooled. Some time during my second year at BBA (I was in eighth grade), I decided that I wanted either to graduate high school from BBA or enter my local high school as a freshman. When my teachers and parents heard this goal I was told one thing: "You can do it, but you'll have to work hard." I readily agreed to start a one-on-one pre-algebra class with Dr. Susan Sharp. As a result of working with someone who understood my learning disability, I finished the pre-algebra curriculum in half a school year, and entered my public high school as a freshman.

When I showed up at Farmington High School (FHS), it raised more than a few eyebrows, because I was assigned to honors classes. Almost immediately I began to prove to everyone by example that special ed students can be appropriately placed in honors classes. To some degree, I still raise eyebrows as a senior taking two Advanced Placement (AP) courses. While I am not cured of my dyslexia, my learning strategies and the use of assistive technology and accommodations all help to level the academic playing field, allowing me to succeed and achieve. Over my high school career, I've had to teach my teachers about my dyslexia and not to group all students with a learning disability into the same category. This was mostly because I was the first student to progress through FHS with assistive technology.

The assistive technology I use consists of a laptop with text-to-speech software that reads to me. In my particular case, this software is Kurzweil, which I use primarily in classes that are reading and writing based. While I read for pleasure and am capable of reading advanced material on my own, reading fast enough to keep up with an honors course load is challenging without assistive technology. Through the necessity of having to maintain my laptop, I discovered I have a knack for troubleshooting computers and computer networks. I found a niche for myself in the Technical Support Group (TSG) at Farmington High. TSG is a student organization charged with the task of keeping the district's computers and networks operational. As a TSG captain, I am responsible for supervising the work of other student techs and taking the lead in troubleshooting problems.

In the performance of these duties I have contributed in breaking the false high school stereotype of special education students being unmotivated and untrustworthy. I remember one time during my junior year as I was helping a new TSG member troubleshoot a computer, he made some remark about how "spec ed-ers" were stupid. After hearing this, I responded by explaining to him that I was special ed and told him about my dyslexia. While the special ed label does not exist in college, I am sure there still is a misunderstanding that people with learning disabilities are not as good as "normal" students are. Because of this, I am determined to continue to advocate for students with learning disabilities by the example of academic excellence.

The next educational challenge I seek to meet is being accepted into college and graduating. Earning a college degree will allow me to be competitive in my chosen field of computer networking in the growing global work force. It will also allow me to prove to the world that learning disabled students can succeed not only in school but in the work force. I am sure I have the capability to continue beating the odds, given my educational background, my determination, and the strategies I use to cope with my dyslexia. I have no doubt in my mind that I will succeed.