“Veronica, Veronica… it’s your turn… you’re up next!” I jump with joy and run to the front of the class. It is my turn for show and tell, my favorite part of the week. I describe the silky blonde hair on my blue-eyed Barbie doll. Suddenly, a short white chubby lady comes in the class asking for me, my teacher responds, “Yes, she is here. She is just about done showing us her doll.”
She explains to me that I would be right back. The lady seems very friendly and sweet as we walk down the hall. We
get to a classroom and she pulls out a workbook. I am wondering why it is only her and I in the room. After a while this all became normal for me and I no longer questioned why I would get called out of class. I was in my second year of first grade and living in the small town of Ukiah, CA. I did not understand math and reading. I recall my parents sitting at the dinner table explaining math with apples or anything that would help me understand addition. Even though my mother did not get a very high education, she did her best to help me in any way possible.
After many years of getting called out of class it was when I moved to Merced that things changed concerning my education. It was no longer the lady that pulled me out of class and I alone in a room. It was now an entire class with different types of students and I. It was in fourth grade when it “clicked” and all of a sudden everything made sense to me…I was in special education!
When I realized I was in special education, I wanted to get out as soon as possible. I did not want to be labeled as “weird,” “dumb,” or “retarded.” I did not care what my parents had to do, but I wanted out! I did not want anyone to know. It was already hard enough for me being “the new kid” at school. Students in class would ask me why I would leave every day during the same time. I would always manage to come up with an excuse. As I got older and moved on to middle school, I was considered to be one of the “cool kids.” No one ever found out I was in special education, not even my best friend at the time. Although, one of the students I would hang out with that was also considered “cool” was in some of my special education courses too. It was our secret that no one could find out about. We never brought up the topic when it was just he and I, not to mention when we were around our group of friends.
I felt like no matter what I did, I was never good enough. I was afraid of what people would think of me. I was afraid to be labeled by my friends. When my special education class had to go to the library or the computer lab, I would ask the teacher if I could go to the bathroom and would just meet them there. If that didn’t work I would walk as far as possible behind the class. I didn’t want to be seen in the hall with my classmates. If I was seen with them, I would tell my friends it was my elective class that I was the TA for that teacher.
There was a time when my friend who was also in special education was picking on a more severe special education student on the bus. He was making fun of him and everyone was laughing at him. I didn’t want to say anything, but he kept going and I could no longer take it. I told him to leave the other kid alone, that he wasn’t doing anything to him. He asked me why it bothered me so much. I said it is not that it was bothering me, it is just that I did not see why he should be picking on him. He asked me, “Is there a reason why you care so much? Do you want to let everyone know what you have been hiding?” I was speechless for a moment. I thought he was going to tell everyone but he didn’t. He knew that would be crossing the line.
High school came along and still no one knew I was in special education, but luckily I was blessed to have the most wonderful case manager, Mr. Hunter. Mr. Hunter was concerned because he believed I “had a misconception of why [I was] in special education.” That did not stop him from believing in me.
At the beginning of my freshman year, Mr. Hunter informed me that I would be taking all regular classes without any help. I was a little afraid but I succeeded, and I passed all my classes with As. Then tenth grade came and Mr. Hunter explained to me that I was going to take pre-AP classes. I didn’t really have a choice at that moment. I just remember thinking to myself, this man is crazy! Why would he ever want me to take advanced classes?
I ended up taking the class. It was challenging in the beginning. I was not accustomed to the heavy workload but I managed to pass the class with an A during both semesters. After that year I started to believe in myself and in my capabilities. According to Mr. Hunter, he believed I had “an appetite for learning and [he thought I] had some high goals.” He also wanted to “make sure [I] felt free to be the best [I] could be, be whoever [I wanted] to be.” Then junior year came. I did not wait to be forced to take advanced classes. I signed myself up for my advance placement classes because I knew Mr. Hunter only wanted the best for me.
Special education is out there and it should not be made fun of or ignored. It is something real that exists. In Merced County alone, there are 5,642 students currently enrolled in some strand of special education according to the California Department of Education. Many students like me may just need someone like Mr. Hunter to be the impetus to help them reach their potential.
I owe this great man much of my success because he pushed me to my limits and believed in my abilities when no other educator did. I am very thankful for the loving and patient parents I have, especially my mom as she is always by my side when things get difficult, encouraging me to keep look- ing forward passed the obstacles that get in my path. I had other teachers who helped me along the way and I am extremely thankful for them.
Even if I had failed an advanced placement class, I would still thank Mr. Hunter for encouraging me to take it because now I understand that you learn from your weaknesses to make them your strengths. Don’t try to hide things like this from your close friends. A true friend will accept you for who you really are, not for who you pretend to be. Never let anyone tell you what you are incapable of doing. You can achieve anything you put your mind to. It just takes determination and hard work but most importantly, belief in yourself!