A student from California who was born with several developmental challenges, both physical and emotional, placed first in the nation in one of the competitive events held earlier this month in Anaheim. How does a student who qualified for an Individual Education Program (IEP) outperform students with no disabilities? I asked his mother, and here is what she says:
My son has always had to struggle to do what comes naturally to others. Just like everyone else he wants to shine, to make others respect him, and to not be the awkward, different guy. For him it is a challenge. On top of having an IEP for his developmental setbacks, he is also a reclassified English Learner who is still catching up on the language gap. So he faced many challenges.
Learning in a Safe Place
When he was in middle school his principal encouraged him to join the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) program that was sponsored by the middle school. My son joined but at first he was not an active member. Nevertheless, we encouraged him to continue as we believed that it would make the transition to high school easier. Once he started his Freshman year in high school he met the teachers leading the program and found a safe haven for himself on campus, a place where he felt appreciated and supported.
In the couple of years since then my son had won 3 CA FBLA State Championships, and placed in FBLA Nationals both as a Freshman, and as a Sophomore winning a National championship. The students in the program know that he is different, but they also know that he is a valuable member, that he brings honor to the school. They want to include him. His self-esteem is sky rocketing, and he knows that he can do well just like anyone else, and even better as he is willing to work harder.
The Biggest Win is Personal Growth
The success is not just in the awards he won. It is also in personal growth. At the beginning, I had to travel with him. With his challenges it was hard for him to share a room, and be with others. He did not have a group of friends to go out with for food, or have a conversation. This has changed, and for me this is the biggest win. My son is now comfortable traveling with his FBLA friends, and sharing a room with 3 other students (handpicked for him by the teachers). He has social interactions and makes friends.
The teachers keep an eye on my son, and I feel that they are as proud of my son’s achievements as I am.
In my son’s last IEP meeting one of the teachers joined the IEP team, reflected the challenges he sees, and suggested opportunities for growth and improvement. His input was invaluable because he knows my son so well from observing him not only in the classroom, but also at FBLA. Seeing my son on so many varying occasions gave the teacher opportunity to bond and support my son.
Knowing that there are two teachers that he can approach with anything that he needs makes my son feel safe and comfortable at school.
The recognition my son had from his achievements in FBLA and being part of a group helped him grow and acquire confidence and maturity that will support him when facing challenges in the future.