STRAIGHT TALK: A Chance at an Equal Education

From a young age, I was placed in a self-contained classroom due to other people’s perceptions of what I could do and what my limits were being a kid with cerebral palsy and a visual impairment. Over the coming years, I faced many challenges with the schools and how they adapted to teach me.

By the time high school rolled around I realized that I was capable of doing more than what I was being taught, so I asked for the opportunity to try and achieve a regular education diploma. My parents and school were both shocked by my decision, but were willing to give it a shot. This would require me to have a full-time paraprofessional at school and Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings every semester to make sure things were in order for me to have the best experience possible.

With each teacher and subject, I faced different obstacles such as classroom placement, extended time on tests, extra help at home and constant preparation for the next obstacle. Since I was in a self-contained classroom for all those years, I was never taught basic math, reading and writing skills. I learned from what I heard and used that to help me push through.

To achieve a regular education diploma, I would have to pass all the required classes as well as the end of course test, writing test and the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT). While I passed some of my end-of-course tests, I was unable to pass the writing and reading and math graduation test even after extensive studying over the summer and school year.

However, I refused to give up on my high school diploma so we applied for waivers for a retest and I went back to high school for a fifth year to obtain the remaining credits. The waivers got denied so I reapplied. At the same time, I began self-advocating and telling my story to our local representatives in hopes to bring change with the GHSGT process. My main goal was to get my diploma so that one day I could attend college and be able to have a job.

The day before the waiver decision was made, a new law was released stating that as long as the child had passed the required courses and the end-of-course test, the student would receive their high school diploma. The GHSGT was out of the equation. Overwhelmed with happiness I immediately set my sights on college. I applied to college and found out that more testing was to be done. I prepared all summer for the test and passed exceedingly on my second try.

I am now a full-time student at East Georgia State College with plans to be a radio broadcast journalist one day.

My experience in an isolated classroom is a story shared by many others who may not have had the opportunities or resources like I did to receive a regular high school diploma. That’s why, like me, all students with disabilities deserve a good education to help qualify us for the right job and pursue a bright future.

Joshua Williams is a student at East Georgia State College in Swainsboro with plans to major in broadcast journalism.

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