Middle school is hard enough on young people, let alone having a learning disability that many people felt was just a joke. My school was one of many going through funding cuts and by seventh grade, I was told I would have to fend for myself. “"Besides"
High school managed to only exacerbate my problems. I routinely had problems finishing tests on time, completing assignments and had issues speaking out in class which got me into trouble. Another conference with the guidance counselor revealed that I was doing "OK". I had been receiving C’'s which was average. I was told that average wasn'’t bad. What they didn’t understand was the grueling task every single night of trying to complete my homework and live a normal life. I had to spend every minute I wasn’'t in class struggling to get my work done. It was frustrating and exhausting. It wasn’'t until my junior year of high school that my mother again intervened.
We found out about a doctor and therapist that specialized in learning disabilities like Attention Deficit and other learning disorders. The summer before my junior year was spent taking tests, talking to doctors and finally going through an extensive battery of tests through the vocational office of the county in which we lived. It was then that I found out something amazing! I wasn'’t dumb. I was actually very bright as the therapist put it. In fact, I was so bright, I had taught myself how to cope and learn despite the lack of help from my school district. My low self esteem from years of feeling inadequate and stupid when it came to interacting with peers and doing school work was suddenly seen in a different light. And despite insistence from my high school guidance counselor that I would not get accommodations on the SAT’s, it only took my mother two weeks to get me 100% extended time. This meant the difference between being able to get into college and not. The funny thing was, I learned that almost every college in America had special needs programs and offices to assist those students who need help in being successful. Perhaps my middle school counselors did not know that!?
Once I started my college career at Gardner-Webb University and became part of the Noel Program, a special needs office to help student like me, I began to get better and better grades. Through sessions with my healthcare provider, the Noel Program, medication at times, and behavior modification, I was able to keep my grades high enough to make the Dean’'s List. Last semester I ended with a 3.6 GPA.
What all this has done for me, is it has given me a passion to help other students in the same boat. Many students believe they are stupid. They feel that they don'’t fit in and often times end up with low self esteem. My mission is to raise awareness of the help that is out there even if your school district is not learning disability friendly. There are many things you are entitled to with your disability. You are not alone and you can be successful and do whatever you put your mind to doing. It just may take a little longer. I am now a Noel Program Mentor to other special needs students at Gardner Webb University, a Big Sister to incoming freshman, and a tutor in Spanish. I have traveled to Costa Rica for a Spanish Immersion program and I compete in pageants. My life has turned around but only because we fought for rights to a good education. Now, it’s my turn to help others.
In March, I was crowned Miss South Carolina International 2011. As a titleholder, I needed to convince CHADD that I wanted to be a spokesperson and affiliate for them. I was granted that title and was also asked to speak at the CHADD National Conference in November. My program Re-Focus: ADHD Awareness is just getting started. I am a speaker on the subject of ADHD, and I am developing a workshop to help students and parents take the right steps in getting their ADHD under control. I have learned you can be successful. My next goal is to visit Washington, DC and convince Congress that ADHD needs more attention in the schools and that current law does not give students enough support. I will consider my work done when everyone with this disorder gets what they need to succeed.
For more information visit www.misssouthcarolinainternational.com
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Mentors-Matter is a non profit founded by Chelsea Rae Gregory, Miss SC International. The program offers workshops, support groups and a website resource that helps students with learning disabilities get into college and be successful in life.