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Eric Wins Big! Hope is Definitely on the Way

Eric Velasquez

By Jere Karnilaw, School Counselor for Special Ed Students, Perth Amboy High School

PERTH AMBOY — On a normal day of school two years ago a student rushed into his counselor’s office in a state of agitation to announce that he had failed his permit test. To most disappointed students this failure would mean a return to the “drawing board” at some later time to give his driving destiny another try. But to Eric Velasquez, a classified senior in the Special Education Department at Perth Amboy High School , this grade of 78 when he needed an 80 forced his self esteem to take a severe nose-dive.

One week later, after demanding a retest, Eric retook and passed his permit test. Only then was he at peace with himself.

So describes the continuing saga of Eric Velasquez’s career in the Perth Amboy School District – an eye-opening continuum of successes interspersed with some imagined “near misses” (or feared outcomes) causing volumes of anxiety that would often send Eric into a tailspin. For Eric struggles with the challenges that students with disabilities face.

With each real or imagined slippery slope, someone has been there ”to catch him” – his school counselor, his case-manager, his teachers, his crisis counselor, his clergyman, and most of all his devoted mother and father. Time and time again Eric has reached out to someone, and time and time again Eric has seen life in a clearer light that would enable him to again move forward in pursuit of his conception of excellence.

In spite of Eric’s ongoing battle with disabilities, he entered his senior year with some impressive credentials: a grade point average of 4.0 as a fully mainstreamed student; acceptance into the National Honor Society not only because of his academic accomplishments but because he has led his peers by the example he has set; SAT scores that totaled 1550; and most recently by being awarded an academic scholarship to attend St Peter’s University totaling close to $90,000.

Ninety thousand dollars is a lot of money to offer a young person eager for an education. St. Peter’s was aware that Eric would need a support system in place to help him get by. That did not discourage the university from offering Eric a much-earned chance to pursue his education at their university . Those who have worked with Eric and know him will have to wait and see what he and his parents decide to do. The safer choice would be to live at home and to attend Middlesex County College, where Eric has also applied. The riskier decision would be to live on campus at St. Peter’s University.

Perth Amboy High School is uniquely set up to serve the needs of Special Education students. One school counselor specializes in working with them. The Child Study Team is also located in the high school and this facilitates a close working relationship which has been developed and nurtured through the many years that this arrangement has been in place. The staff knows there is this close connection between the Child Study Team and the School Counselor for SE, which affords them several avenues for getting support regarding these students. This arrangement also enables the school counselor to act as a liaison in consistently encouraging and upholding policies leading to higher student performance in changing times.

With a student such as Eric, who reacts impulsively to what he sees as setbacks or difficult challenges, and even obsesses about them, having someone to talk to that day is how he begins to work out his conflicts. And, of course, once he arrives home, his parents provide him with all the support and encouragement he requires. At Perth Amboy High School he has made frequent use of the many doors open to him by caring and understanding staff.

When Eric asked why this article was being written, it was explained to him that other students with disabilities might be inspired by the example he has set and the rewards he has earned by working hard to overcome…….

“Issues?” he said.

“Yes, issues.”

“Will that give them hope?” he continued.

“Yes. That will give them hope.”

“That’s good,” he added, “because I’m tired of lending them my pencils and never getting them back!”

As the conversation ended, the message that rang true was that hope was definitely on the way!

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