An Interview with
Student, Columbia Central High School
One of the highlights of the White House signing ceremony was Joshua (Josh) Bailey's speech on behalf of all students with disabilities. In a recent interview with Josh, he describes his and his mother's efforts to obtain a free appropriate public education and how he has strived to meet his own high standards. Josh will graduate from Columbia Central High School, in Columbia, Tennessee, with a grade point average of 3.6. He is an Eagle Scout and has consistently taken advanced placement classes throughout his high school career.
Josh's story reflects the importance of emphasizing high standards for children with disabilities and the positive results from doing so.
INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION ACT SIGNING CEREMONY
The White House
Wednesday, June 4, 1997
Thank you, Assistant Secretary Heumann. I enjoyed your remarks about your Mother. I'm proud of my Mother, too. And I would like you all to meet her, as well as my sister, Sarah.
Mr. President, Secretary Riley, Members of Congress, Ladies and Gentlemen: My fellow students here today are deeply honored to represent America's disabled students at this historic ceremony. We thank you for giving us the opportunity to get a good education and to have a bright future. I know that in years to come, we will make you very proud of us. We want you to know that we can learn, and learn just as well as anybody. All we need is the appropriate help and the chance.
I am someone who insists on having that chance. I have a learning disability called dyslexia. Learning disabilities account for over half of all disabilities served by I.D.E.A. When I entered high school, I had a discussion with one of my advisors, who said that I should take courses that I could handle easily. I looked him right in the eye and said, "No thanks. I'll take the tough courses and do my best." And I have. Next September, when I return to school, I will take seven classes. They are advanced placement American History, accelerated English III, accelerated Algebra II, accelerated Chemistry, Latin III, Drafting III, and psychology/sociology. Like I said -- we can learn. My advisor wasn't trying to put me down. Maybe he was being a little overprotective. Sometimes people just don't understand what we need.
As one teacher said about me, "He's the first dyslexia student I've ever taught." I think I was the first one she ever knew about. But I have found that teachers and others are willing to learn. They have good hearts and they want to help -- they just need to know how. I think I.D.E.A. will help make that possible. Most importantly, it will let people know that we exist. It will tell them that we can learn to higher standards if we get what we need and if principals, teachers, parents, and students all work together.
The I.D.E.A. will be especially helpful to teachers, and I know from my own experience how important that is. I held an inservice program on dyslexia for general education teachers, and I know what a terrific job teachers can do when they have the right tools. Ladies and Gentlemen it is my prayer that all students -- regardless of their abilities and disabilities -- will have the opportunity to succeed and become contributors to this great nation.
And now, I would like to introduce someone who is working hard to give us that opportunity. He is not just the education President -- he is the education President for all students. And he is a President who really believes that "all means all." It is my great honor to introduce to you the President of the United States, Bill Clinton.
Columbia Central High School
Class of 1999
Can you tell us a little bit about your academic life? What were the greatest struggles for you in the classroom?
Currently things are pretty good. In the last 3 years, I've done really well. I got a 4.0 in the first semester of this year. I will get a 3.75 in the second quarter. Teachers have generally been very cooperative, although sometimes I need to remind them about my disability and my needs.
When I was in elementary school, before they knew what my disability was, the school personnel generally were not receptive. They said, "He'll grow out of it." We (my mother and I) had to fight for a few things. They did not want to have me tested, because I was passing. They did not want to test someone unless they were failing miserably. I was finally tested, privately, in third grade. The tests indicated that I had written and verbal expression difficulties.
Things got better when I had a better understanding of what I needed to survive. Also, from 5th grade and on into high school, I attended my own M-Team meetings (Multidisciplinary team meetings). Attending those meetings put a face on the kid they were discussing. I began going to these meetings, because once, the teachers and administrators were bombarding my mother with questions about my needs. My mother finally said, "Why don't you ask Josh?"
How do you think the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act changed your life?
IDENTIFICATION AND IEP MEETINGS.
Once they found out about my disability, I began having M-Team (Individualized Education Programs) meetings where they could talk about what I needed.
Once I started having M-Team meetings, I started receiving accommodations. Currently, I sit in front of the class because I am easily distracted. I also have a laptop computer. I use the laptop in my Latin and English courses and other courses where there is a great dealing of writing or note taking. Also, I get a copy of the teachers' notes because I cannot listen and take notes at the same time. In addition, I receive extended time on my tests.
COLLABORATION AND INCLUSION IN THE REGULAR EDUCATION CLASSROOM.
I have a close relationship with the Assistant Principal of my High School who also is in charge of special education. I talk to her about what I need.
I am in the regular (education) classroom all of the time. At the beginning of each year, I meet with the new teachers in the M-Team meeting. We discuss whether there is anything in their classes that I need to know before attending the first day of class. Usually everything works well. I have an M-Team meeting at the beginning and end of the year to see what needs to be done differently next year.
How do you think you have benefited from the IDEA Amendments of 1997?
I do not know if this is because of the new law, but I was given extended time to take the ACT (American College Testing (ACT) Assessment Test). I was also allowed to use a tape-recorder to record my answers as well as work in a quieter environment. My score improved significantly with these accommodations.
At the IDEA'97 White House signing ceremony, you introduced the President of the United States and spoke on behalf of children with disabilities. How has that experience changed your life?
It has changed (my life) a lot. Since I spoke at the signing ceremony, I have given many more speeches. I gained a lot of credibility after I spoke at the signing ceremony. I think that other people thought, if the people in Washington think I am credible than I must be a credible speaker on disability issues. I have spoken to regular education classroom teachers, supervisors of Adult Educators for Middle Tennessee, and to educational professionals throughout the State. I was the graduation speaker for Blue Springs Boys School, and guest speaker for the Boy Scouts of America in Middle Tennessee fundraiser. I've attended the National Council on Disabilities Annual Conference and I'm going back again this year.
If you had one thing you could tell people about IDEA'97, what would it be?
The law is there to help. Although it has policies and processes that you have to follow, it is still there to help. The law is not intended to be a burden.
If you had one thing to tell students with disabilities and their families, what would that be? (Josh had three!)
Once you get knocked down, you have to get up and if you don't, you are going to fall through the cracks.
Make sure you know your disability up one side and down the other.
Consider all of your options.
Students and teachers need to consider all options, including using the summer to obtain or provide specialized assistance. I drove every day to Nashville the summer between my freshman and sophomore years to take a specialized reading program. When I started the program, my reading comprehension skills were at a sixth grade and 5 months level. I was tested again, this past November, and I was at a 16th school year level, which equals a second year college student. Considering all my options, such as taking the specialized reading program, at my mother's expense, significantly enhanced my reading and enabled me to become more successful in High School.