Tuesday, August 15, 2006

So proud of my niece

Address by Ava Jensen

Good evening. I’m currently majoring in Philosophy with a strong interest in Ethics, and I graduated from the AIMS Diploma Program at the age of 16. I was given a district-paid slot in this program because I had little choice but to drop out even though I had an IEP. I was entitled to one as a twice-exceptional student, being both profoundly gifted and afflicted with major depression. It is due to that crippling condition that I began to fail school, but as a result of my status, I was placed on an IEP which bound my school and teachers by law to help me by making adjustments to my workload.

I should mention that even while I was too apathetic to get out of bed even to shower, I still tended to score A's and the occasional B on exams. It was the excessive amounts of repetitive homework which I had trouble turning in regularly. Yet despite the federal mandate that my teachers make accommodations for me as a disabled student, they steadfastly refused and so even with high test scores, I failed out of tenth grade. If not for the school district’s policy and responsibility to make amends for having failed to deliver to me a decent education, I would not have had the second chance afforded me by the AIMS Diploma Program.

Upon my successful exit from the program, my high school was eager to claim me as one of its graduates despite my decision to be awarded a Weld County High School Diploma instead. So now I have two high school diplomas, which brings me to my first question: With graduates no longer being allowed to have a diploma awarded by their former high schools, then surely they will no longer be unjustly counted as graduates of those high schools, correct?

The more compelling question here, however, is “What would have happened to me if I hadn’t been guaranteed a district-paid slot in the AIMS Diploma Program?” Most importantly, what will happen to the 120 more human beings who are now to be denied this much-needed second chance? How is reducing the available slots to be considered “moving the program forward”? What happens to the non-prioritized individuals who will remain on the waiting list year after year and never be deemed worthy of a second chance of their own?

The superintendent put forth the idea that reducing the number of district-paid slots from 200 to 80 will somehow serve kids better, since the other 120 were supposedly prone to “lying on the sofa” all day, using the AIMS Diploma Program as an easy and wholly unnecessary way out. With all due respect, that idea has little basis and fails to show that 120 students should be denied slots based on the alleged behavior of a few.

For one thing, those students who are not given a slot by the district must not only pay $1,000 out of their own pockets but must also wait until they are 21 years of age before they can apply to the program. Incidentally, I did spend a lot of time sleeping instead of actively working due to my medical condition, but I have gone on to cultivate a 4.0 and receive two awards of distinguished scholarship, one at AIMS and the other at UNC. That would not have been possible if not for the AIMS Diploma Program. Should I have been denied my second chance and condemned to a life of inescapable poverty? More pertinently, should others be?

Unfortunately, there are socioeconomic and racial factors at play here, and simply ignoring the cycle of poverty will not make it go away, at least not for those trapped within it. Many students drop out as soon as they are able in order to work to support their families, but without a high school diploma, they will find themselves unable to advance beyond a certain level of pay without resorting to professions beyond lawful society. No one ever really wants to become a high school dropout. At the very least, no one wants to be unable to succeed in life, and that is exactly what reducing the slots in the AIMS Diploma Program will cause.

The G.E.D. has been mentioned as an alternative, but it carries with it a heavy stigma, and I have personally seen great numbers of job listings which state that only those with actual high school diplomas will be considered for the position. There is much, much more which could be said, but for now I can only strongly urge you to alter your attitudes and actions regarding the AIMS Diploma Program. Thank you.

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