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Angelisa’s Story

Left: Angelisa is valedictorian!  Right: Angelisa with her mother and school social worker.

Angelisa is a quiet, determined student who just graduated with a Regents diploma and is headed to college in the fall! Angelisa has made enormous strides both academically and socially over the past several years; when her mother first called Advocates for Children’s Helpline in the fall of 2013, then 18-year-old Angelisa was in eighth grade for the fifth time.

Angelisa began experiencing academic and social-emotional difficulties when she transitioned to middle school. Starting in sixth grade, she was unable to keep up with her school work, and in addition to an unaddressed learning disability, she was bullied by peers and struggled with severe anxiety. Angelisa failed all but two of her seventh-grade classes, and though her mother regularly communicated with the school about Angelisa’s mental health needs, the Department of Education (DOE) never identified Angelisa as a student with a disability. Instead, Angelisa floundered in eighth grade, unable to make academic progress, while her friends moved on to high school. Despite repeated holdovers, the DOE never provided Angelisa with any additional supports and neglected to conduct a special education evaluation, even after her mother requested one. As a result, Angelisa became increasingly depressed, and her attendance plummeted as she started avoiding school due to anxiety.

Though Angelisa did not want to be stuck in a classroom with much younger students, she desperately wanted to work towards a high school diploma. She found AFC’s website on her own and asked her mom to reach out for help. With our assistance, Angelisa was finally promoted to ninth grade and referred for special education services. At a meeting to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP)—held six years after Angelisa’s disabilities began impeding her academic progress—AFC successfully advocated for placement at a small, specialized school that could address Angelisa’s anxiety as well as her academic needs.

Angelisa thrived in this supportive environment, where she received frequent one-on-one attention and had regular access to a social worker and psychologist. She began attending regularly, passing all of her classes, and started preparing for the Regents exams. However, because the DOE failed to provide Angelisa with an appropriate education for so many years, she no longer had enough time to be able to earn all the necessary credits before she would age out of the school system at 21. Advocates for Children therefore represented Angelisa at an impartial hearing to secure four years of compensatory education so that she would have the opportunity to graduate. The impartial hearing officer described the case as “disconcerting,” noting that “the DOE simply allowed [Angelisa] to fail repeatedly” though she “plainly was capable” of getting passing grades.

Indeed, Angelisa made rapid progress once she was in an appropriate school. With social-emotional supports and a lot of hard work, she developed self-advocacy skills and greater confidence, made the honor roll, and passed all five Regents exams with flying colors. In the end, Angelisa only needed one year of compensatory education to earn her diploma, and she was class valedictorian! Angelisa will be attending John Jay College, where she hopes to study criminal justice and forensic science. We’re so proud of how far she’s come!