In honor of School Choice Week, Good School Hunting is sharing an interview with a California student named Elise, conducted by La Comadre, an advocacy and communications organization with the fundamental goal of “building a community to help all of our children with their education.” I (Erika) personally know this student’s mother, Lisette, who has been a tireless advocate in California and beyond for her own children and for countless other children— she is founding contributor to La Comadre and her focus on the importance of choice for special education students is personal. The interview is cut and pasted exactly as it ran here at La Comadre.
We are chatting with Elise Duarte for School Choice Week. She is a student who requires special education to access the school curriculum.
La Comadre: Tell us about yourself.
Elise: I am 14 years old. I love art. I paint and sketch. I enjoy listening to music and creating unique designs with special effects makeup.
La Comadre: Elise, tell us about why you want to talk about school choice?
Elise: I have attended seven different schools, four of them have been in LAUSD. My parents tried lots of schools before finding the right one for me.
La Comadre: Tell us a little about your school.
Elise: For a year now, I have been attending a non-public school in the valley, and it has been life changing.
La Comadre: Tell us why you like it so much.
Elise: My school is for kids with learning disabilities and attention issues.
I also like this school because I feel safe. I was bullied at all my other schools.
I didn’t always know when I was being bullied. Being at a school like this is like being in a different world. Everyone is open about having an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) — before my IEP was almost like a secret that nobody was supposed to know about.
On my first day, one of my classmates was trying to take a walking break, and the teacher wouldn’t let him so he said: “it’s in my IEP in front of the entire class.” I just thought that was crazy. That was the normal thing at my school.
La Comadre: Do you think students and parents should have a choice to find schools that fit their children’s individual needs?
Elise: I think we need more schools that fit students’ needs. We need more class environments and schools where you feel safe and supported. I just feel so much more confident being open about my IEP and self-advocating. That wasn’t the case at any other school. People pick on you when you’re different. It was like a secret before, I didn’t want anyone to know I needed extra help or accommodations that were in my IEP. I think lots of students feel the same way.
La Comadre: What is self-advocacy?
Elise: Self-Advocacy: Is when you speak up for yourself. You tell people what you need. You need to find someone that you can feel comfortable with and let them know. It was something that was really hard for me to do. It was hard to tell people when I needed help or a break. I’ve been to so many schools, and I’ve been bullied for things I can’t change. It still isn’t easy for me to speak up for myself, but I push myself. When I do, it gets better. Now I ask for breaks, when I am feeling anxious without shame or being afraid of others knowing.
I think that young teens should self-advocate. It starts with you making a change in the class environment or your school. Then maybe other people follow. It’s something we need to make normal.
La Comadre: What are some things that you are comfortable asking for now that make it easier for you to learn at your new school?
Elise: Things that are helpful to me are:
Taking a walk break
Listening to music
Wearing my earphones when it’s too noisy
Chewing gum helps me focus
Wearing my sunglasses because the bright lights bother me
La Comadre: Tell us what you’re doing now to help others.
Elise: I have been talking to other teens and their parents about bullying.
I have been sharing my experience to let other teens know it’s okay to speak up about being bullied. It’s okay to tell someone it’s happening.
When I was being bullied, I was telling teachers and staff at the school, and they wouldn’t believe me or help me do something about it. My parents believed me, and they helped me find a therapist to talk to and found me a school where I am doing a lot better at.
Now that I have been sharing my story, I know it has been helpful to others, and it has been healing for me too. I use to think there was something wrong with me and that this was only happening to me.
La Comadre: Is there something else you want teens or parents to know?
Elise: Don’t give up. If you’re being bullied, do something about it. Find someone to talk to. Share your story, it could help someone else not feel so alone. If you aren’t happy at your school, you should find one that works for you. You have options.
What is National School Choice Week?
School choice means giving parents access to the best K-12 education options for their children. These options not only include traditional public schools, public charter schools, and public magnet schools, but also private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.
Every child deserves an effective, challenging, as well as motivating education. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders; therefore children should have the opportunity to achieve their own American dreams.
For more information on School Choice.