ESE college student Kenny Korchak Presents at START/ESE Advisory Council

Kenny KorchakSTART/ESE Advisory Council Presentation

ESE college student Kenny Korchak: “you have to advocate for yourself”

This quarter’s S.T.A.R.T. (Student Transition and Resource Team) / ESE (Exceptional Student Education) Advisory Council meeting was held at the Chet Cole Life Enrichment Center at the Key Training Center in Lecanto.

The special guest speaker was not an educator talking about classroom strategies, a parent talking about what we can do at home, or a Ph.D sharing about the latest educational studies. Rather, this day, Kenny Korchak a young man with cerebral palsy and a student with learning challenges himself, came to share one simple message to the learning challenged and special needs community, “students have to advocate for themself!”

Kenny shared about his learning challenges and how he had to learn to stand up for himself. When Kenny began school in Elementary School it was a positive experience. The schools and teachers worked to encourage him and even stayed late to tutor him. At Secondary School things were different; Kenny was placed in an alternative learning school similar to Citrus’s CREST School with the anticipation of graduating with a special high school diploma instead of a regular diploma. It was immediately evident to Kenny that while this school was helpful to other students this was not the appropriate school for him, he desired to be mainstreamed. In Kenny’s freshman year his assessment test showed that he was on grade level and even above in some subjects. With the encouragement of one of his former elementary teachers who advocated for Kenny, he was placed on a regular diploma track. Kenny knew that what would help him to be most successful was to be in the mainstream high school. Kenny did need educational accommodations but his learning challenges were not going to keep him from being successful and so Kenny began his journey of being his own advocate, guidance counselor and advisor in his education. He designed his own schedule each year and would make formal request to have accommodations in his Individual Educational Plan (IEP). If high school alone was not tough enough, Kenny wanted to accomplish more, so while on spring breaks from high school he entered himself into vocational classes to become a “certified nursing assistant” (CAN) which he completed and got certification while still in high school. In the summer of 2008, Kenny graduated from high school with a regular diploma. This was far from an end for Kenny, this was just the beginning. Next, Kenny enrolled at Pasco-Hernando Community College in the Criminal Justice Academy and is completing his AA in criminal justice. His goal is not to simply become a deputy but rather a School Resource Officer (SRO) in the schools to be a daily mentor and advocate for students. Throughout sharing of his journey Kenny spoke about the many great obstacles he encountered and the many people that told him he would never succeed. Kenny focused on those that told him he could succeed and how to be successful but every day he (Kenny) had to believe in himself in order to actually become successful.

Kenny Korchak, Nancy Haynes & Thomas KennedyKenny’s story was so inspiring and heartfelt that Pasco County Schools, where Kenny attended school, made a short documentary video on the challenges Kenny faced while in Pasco Schools that they have their staff view in hopes of making life easier for the next “Kenny’s” that go through their school system.

In Citrus Schools we have been embracing and greatly incorporating student self-determination/advocacy. Citrus ESE department has been providing student advocacy trainings with a program, Standing Up for Me that was developed in part with Citrus Schools ESE Department, Project 10: Transition Education Network, and Florida Diagnostic & Learning Resources System. The SUFM curriculum was designed in Florida to provide professional development training to teachers to advance the self-determination of their students. In addition Citrus’s ESE department this year has been piloting student lead IEP conferences. These conferences put students and their parents in the driver’s seat of developing a successful educational plan for the student’s learning based on the student’s expressed needs and desires. The results are often a stronger commitment to learning on the part of the students.

Listening to Kenny speak about his situation and what key aspects resulted in success for him, I am reminded of a quote by Rita Pierson who was a TEDTalks speaker, and was a 40 year elementary school, secondary, and ESE teacher. She said, “Every child deserves a champion — an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”

(Follow this link to see a Pierson TEDTalks: http://www.ted.com/talks/rita_pierson_every_kid_needs_a_champion.html)

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