My name is Arcenio Nuñez. I write this letter to let you know what a struggle my educational years have been. I started out pretty slow in elementary school and always felt frustrated. Things picked up a little in 7th and 8th grade because of teachers who gave me extra help and most definitely, the support of my loving mother.
But, just as I had expected, high school was a challenge. I was getting D’s and F’s and eventually quit school in the middle of my senior year. Things were falling apart but I wasn’t surprised. Although I knew my high school days were over, that loving, caring figure that I call “mommy” was there for me. When she took me to a psychologist I thought, “What is this person going to do for me?” Well I was completely wrong. The psychologist convinced me and helped me to take my GED exam. I was nervous but I passed. I now have my diploma and am happier than I have ever been in my life. I plan to go to the Louisburg College in North Carolina and owe it all to one special lady, my mom. Thanks to her courage and strength I am who I am today.
A Mother’s Perspective
My name is Virginia Nuñez. I am the mother of two wonderful teenagers. One of those teenagers, my son, Arcenio, is the person I am going to talk about. Arcenio hasn’t been a very fast learner since he was in elementary school. Teachers told me he could do the work but he was not. At first they thought his problem was because our native language of Spanish. My husband speaks Spanish at home so the teachers thought Arcenio did not understand English- even though he was born in the United States and spoke fluent English. Finally, they tested him. They found that he had a learning disability. I did not completely understand what that meant but the teachers put Arcenio in programs they said would help.
His grades began to pick up. In middle school he did much better. Arcenio also discovered his joy in playing soccer. His coaches said he was very good at it too. Although his grades picked up in middle school, when beginning high school it was a struggle. Arcenio wasn’t making good grades and his hope was fading fast. He was a star though on the high school soccer team. When the school removed him from the team because of his low grades, Arcenio quit trying.
By his junior year, Arcenio felt he shouldn’t try anymore but being the strong mother that I am, I stuck by him. In the middle of his senior year, the school said he was failing all of his classes and told him he could not longer attend. Arcenio completely quit trying. I thought that my son’s life was over. My feeling on education is that you can’t be successful in life without it.
Arcenio agreed to take the GED. He took it and failed. Many months passed and I was losing faith. One day my very good friend referred me to a school psychologist. The psychologist helped by son and I more than I can imagine. The psychologist motivated Arcenio to want to go to college and to follow his dream of becoming a professional soccer player. The psychologist looked at his school records and said he should ask for accommodations when he took the GED again. Arcenio and the psychologist worked to complete the forms he needed. Despite my financial problems, I managed to afford to get a tutor for him. When the day before the exam came, Arcenio was nervous but determined. The next morning he woke up early and left for his big day. He got back with a smile on his face that could already explain how he did.
A few weeks later, we had just gotten back from visiting a college in North Carolina. Upon return we say an envelope on the table. When I opened it, I saw Arcenio’s diploma! We both jumped for joy and celebrated. Today, I write this letter telling you that Arcenio plans to attend Louisburg College and is filling out his application. No matter how hard it was Arcenio made it and I will always be proud of him and love him.
Proud mother of Arcenio Nuñez
A psychologist’s perspective
I first met Arcenio in a phone call from his mother. She did not know where to turn. Arcenio has been told not to return to his high school. His mother knew he had to ability to be successful. He had struggled in elementary school but always passed. In middle school, again, he was able to work to pass. In high school the struggle became more difficult. Arcenio did not like his classes. He would come late. He would not do his homework. He would fall asleep in class.
Arcenio had been identified as having a specific learning disability. Initially he was placed in remedial speech and language programs. Later he received services in resource, pullout programs. By middle school he was frustrated with the label. He still, however, tried to benefit from the suggestions of his teachers.
As high school progressed, Arcenio became a star athlete on the high school soccer team. By his junior year universities and other programs interested in his ability to play soccer scouted him. Even if he could not be successful in class he knew he would be a star athlete. As the pressure of playing and attending classes increased his grades fell. The school warned him that he could not play soccer if he did not maintain his grade point average. Arcenio did not think this would happen and continued to focus on sports with a secondary focus on getting his schoolwork done. His grades were low. He was removed from the team- even though he by now had been offered college scholarships. Arcenio stopped trying and he achieved failing grades in all of his classes. Once he had passed his 16th birthday he was told he could not longer attend his school.
Arcenio struggled for a few months out of school. He then decided to take the GED. Though he said he told the center he had a learning disability when he applied to take the test he was not told that he could have accommodations such as extended time when taking the GED. Arcenio failed the GED. This began a round of depression for his parents and for Arcenio. He began to think about going to Europe to play soccer but his parents knew he had the ability to succeed in school.
Anguished, his mother called me. She needed help and did not know where to begin. The first step was to review his school records. The records identified good intellectual potential and a significant learning disability that limited his memory and ability to derive meaning from written text. Clearly he seemed to qualify for accommodations when taking the GED.
An important question remained. Wouldn’t it be better for Arcenio to complete high school? From there he could follow his goal go to college and to play soccer. I visited his former high school to determine if other problems caused the school to remove him from their roles. Was he violent, using drugs, a member of a gang? The principal assured me that none of these applied. Arcenio was a pleasant adolescent who played soccer extremely well. “He really did not think we would tell him he could not play soccer if he did not improve his grades,” said the assistant principal. We discussed whether Arcenio could return to the high school. The assistant principal advised against it. Under IDEA transition and other services should still have been available.
I met with Arcenio and his mother. We discussed options. The GED still seemed to be the best route. If he did well enough on the GED he had been assured that he would be accepted at one of the colleges he had chosen. The college, in addition to an excellent soccer program, had a program to meet the needs of students with learning disabilities.
Arcenio and I looked at his learning profile and the nature of his learning disability. We talked about his intellectual strengths and weaknesses. He agreed that he seemed to have the ability to pass the GED. He did want to go to college. We agreed that he would now ask for the accommodations when taking the GED. The forms were completed. The request set to go. Arcenio began to study. He became an advocate for himself. His goal was to pass the GED so that he could go to college. College was also the key to open a door for a professional soccer career.
Last month Arcenio passed the GED. He is now planning to go to college in the fall. He is looking for a job for the summer to earn spending money. With self-determination and help from his mother who knew it was time to seek help outside of the school system, Arcenio is now on his way to a successful future.
Interventions earlier, however, may have prevented these difficulties. We need to learn how to relate to children with learning differences. The problems often become more difficult as students attend classes where mainstream teachers have not been trained to meet the needs of students with LD. In addition parents do not fully understand how to access services and too often school psychologists must spend much of their time with assessment rather than with the counseling of youth such as Arcenio who need help in finding direction amidst the frustration of learning within an ecology that does not really understand how to help them solve their problems.
The psychologist is in private practice as a school psychologist.