Autism Triumph: Surviving High School with the help of My Charter School Education, I’m Now Headed to College

Since I can remember, I have been extremely anxious about change. I worried about change. Sometimes that change would lead to various levels of panic, including public panic. And that panic would inspire group panic. Instead of getting help for that public panic, people would drift away from me, and I would be alone – alone in my worst moment.

Despite my issues with autism spectrum disorder, health challenges, and anxiety, I had my mom. And in a softer, quieter way, I had my dad. So even when I felt like I was alone in my thoughts, I was never alone in their presence. Although it’s taken my teenage years to recognize all the ways that my parents have worked and sacrificed to get me to this point of emotional stability and academic success, I wouldn’t be here on my way to college if it weren’t for my parents and their efforts to put me on that path.

My mom went to war with the Baldwin Park Unified School District over my educational eligibility, education needs, supports and the accommodations that I needed. This wasn’t the kind of war the United States government engages in all over the planet targeting people of color with drone attacks, and it wasn’t even the kind of war that is still waged on some of the streets in Los Angeles. My mom spent a lot of her waking hours listening to educators and administrators deny me an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Since autism is an invisible disability, the Baldwin Park Unified School District refused to acknowledge my diagnosis and made it hard for me to learn without the appropriate resources and services. My parents were forced to homeschool me until they found the right placement at PUC Santa Rosa Middle School. Regardless, this district had other challenges as well that impacted the quality of instruction for a lot of students who didn’t have disabilities.

My mother’s battlefront experience with public school districts over the selective standards in servicing underprivileged communities, along with her commitment to special needs students, has made her a locally known educational advocate. Her grassroots labors have refined her expertise in organizing for social justice, educational advocacy, disability rights, and equality for communities of color within the greater Los Angeles area. I am proof of my mother’s dedication to ensuring that all students in Los Angeles receive a high-quality education by accelerating the growth of progressive and committed public schools.

My parents made it possible for me to get into eCALS, the PUC Early College Academy for Leaders and Scholars in Los Angeles, California. This is one of the four schools on the Sotomayor Learning Academies campus. Partnerships to Uplift Communities has been operating public charter schools in Northeast Los Angeles area for more than fifteen years. PUC eCals is a free public charter school open to all students who live in the Sotomayor Learning Academies attendance boundary and beyond.

My time at eCALS has been a wonderful and positive experience leading to my academic advancement. Since eCALS is a charter school, it has more flexibility in how it handles students with special needs. Teachers at eCALS must participate in scheduling tutoring hours for students who are not advancing scholastically with the majority of students. There is also a special study hall class that offers additional tutoring with assignments for students who have IEPs. Teachers at my school also have routine professional development. I have an Individualized Educational Program team covering all my different subjects, and I can use dedicated rooms to take tests if I need silence to concentrate on an exam.

Music is my favorite subject. I have been able to communicate with my peers through music. And music has been able to regulate symptoms specific to my autism. I started playing guitar in the ninth grade, and switched over to bass in 10th grade. I now play upright bass in the advanced school ensemble and electric bass in spirit band. I have discovered that music has helped me improve my math scores on the SAT, and I am not even into mathematics. So I can deduce the study of music has helped me base my logic with numbers and counting. Music has also helped me socially. I have more friends, and it’s a great way to communicate. I’ve been named eCALs Musician of the Year for the last two consecutive years, and I play in another advanced ensemble group at a Saturday CAP program held at CalArts. I received a scholarship from CalArts, so that’s where I might be attending college next year. Financing my college education is still a concern for me and my family, and I’m hopeful that I will earn additional scholarships.

My experience at eCALs has vastly improved by social skills to the degree that I can now speak to large audiences. I was a part of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Youth Council last year, and I am currently the Community Liaison director at ASLA (Autism Society of Los Angeles). These leadership activities are proof that a human being with autism can find his way through this maze of life and achieve his scholastic dreams.

As I now prepare myself to enter the next phase (college) of my educational journey, I must never forget how I made it to this point and how the advocacy of my mom and dad helped me get here.

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Enrique Duarte, IV

Enrique Duarte, IV

Enrique Duarte, IV lives in East Los Angeles. He enjoys reading, traveling, and composing music. He is a college student. He is a board member of the Autism Society of Los Angeles, serving as the Community Liaison Director. He served on the L.A. Mayors Youth Council. From the age of nine, Enrique has been an active self-advocate, volunteer for many non-profit organizations, speaker, and voice in the autism, developmental disabilities and mental health community. He is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist musician, is currently in a band, and is recording a demo.

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