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Tayloni's Story

Tayloni's Story

Left: Tayloni with Allison Guttu, her AFC attorney, at graduation.
Right: Tayloni dressed up for middle school prom.

In June 2016, 14-year-old Tayloni graduated from 8th grade at New Design Middle School in Harlem, where she made the merit roll and was chosen as her class' commencement speaker!

Three years ago, Tayloni was an innocent bystander in a shooting near her home in Brooklyn and was paralyzed from the waist down, a story that was the subject of the short New York Times documentary Stray Bullet. Following an 8-month hospitalization and rehabilitation period, Tayloni was referred to Advocates for Children for assistance with her educational needs as she transitioned back to school. While Tayloni's mother had repeatedly requested a barrier-free public school with a specialized program for students with physical disabilities, New Design was inexperienced in working with students with disabilities like Tayloni's and there were no other students at the school with similar needs. Tayloni was frequently pulled out of class for physical and occupational therapy, missed additional class and peer time (like lunch) to attend to routine medical needs due to a lack of skilled nursing support, and sometimes was unable to attend school at all because the school bus failed to arrive or did not have a working wheelchair lift. Though Tayloni is very bright and has always been a good student, she began to fall behind academically due to lost instructional time.

AFC intervened and filed an impartial hearing request to obtain reliable, wheelchair-accessible busing and ensure that Tayloni would receive physical and occupational therapy at appropriate times that would not interfere with her ability to fully participate in school. Thanks to AFC's advocacy, the Department of Education (DOE) also agreed to pay for after-school tutoring to make up for all the time Tayloni spent out of class, and she was able to finish her 8th grade year on a high note. Her science teacher says, "Students like her are the reason teachers become teachers."

AFC has been supporting Tayloni and her mother throughout the high school admissions process to ensure she has the assistive technology, medical support, and other services she will need to be successful in the next stage of her education. Check out a New York Daily News article on Tayloni's graduation for more pictures and quotes from her graduation speech. In July 2016, Tayloni was also honored at City Hall by First Lady Chirlane McCray, who presented her with the Malala Leadership Award. We are so proud of Tayloni's hard work and can't wait to see what she accomplishes next!