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“My sister would like to become a lawyer, but as someone who struggles with epileptic seizures, she fell behind in her school classes due to cognitive confusion,” writes Lithonia High School student Victoria Ayodele. “I believe the educational system should provide more support to disadvantaged and marginalized school populations.”

Pictured: The author’s sister, Tokunbo, at her high school graduation photo from Lithonia High School as Class of 2021.

Bridging the American Achievement Gap for Disadvantaged Students & Families [ESSAY]

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On Oct. 13, 2019, I planned to take my first PSAT in 9th grade. I was a bit nervous about the exam until I heard my sister, Tokunbo, would be in the same testing room. Walking into the testing room, I took my seat, grateful I had my sister with me. Fifteen minutes into the test, I felt confident and completely in control. With a slight smile, I looked up toward my sister, who seemingly had a blank stare from across the room. Alarm and urgency slipped across my face as she dropped her pencil and dropped to the white, cold floor. Without contemplation, I ran to help her up. Unfortunately, she was not able to finish her test that day.

My sister was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2011 at 8 years old. I have been her school guardian because of her seizures. Throughout elementary school, Tokunbo always enjoyed being an A-student and doing well at school. Because Tokunbo was an honors student, it really hurt me to know that she would fall behind in her classes when seizures occur. Sometimes, she would have seizures at the beginning of the day, preventing her from attending school and completing any assignments. 

“Tokunbo enjoyed participating in primary school, joining the chorus group, and becoming vocalist of the year. However, the times the family would have to stay at the hospital for days because of recurring seizures makes me shiver, which is how she would miss school. I hope there is a cure for her epilepsy,”  said our mom, Gladys Ayodele. 

By the end of high school, Tokunbo missed multiple assignments through incomplete work and school absences. Fortunately, a few of her teachers provided her make-up assignments and after-school tutorial. She graduated from Lithonia High School last year. 

Unlike the average teenager, she cannot complete ordinary activities alone, such as driving or swimming, because of possible endangerment. Ever since Tokunbo started high school, she was excited about the experiences of independence and living in a college dorm. Unfortunately, our parents were apprehensive, so she was not able to live on the Georgia State University campus and must attend remotely. 

Aspiring to be a lawyer, Tokunbo also worries seizures may prevent her from taking other standardized exams, such as the bar exam, and eventually appearing in the courtroom. “I could only go so far, physically and intellectually, after graduating from high school in 2021,” said Tokunbo, 19, who is currently in college at Georgia State University.

Unfortunately, Tokunbo is just one of those students with disabilities who are disadvantaged by the education system. More underrepresented groups, such as students at underfunded schools and districts, special education committees, minorities, and many more see inequity in the education system. In the future, I hope Georgia’s public school systems, including DeKalb County Schools, provide these groups with more funding and other opportunities to showcase their learning. 

For the first step, I believe schools should acknowledge and openly discuss in the community how disadvantages can affect a child’s career and learning potential. 

Additionally, schools should also hire more special educational staff and specialized counselors that can work closely with specific students to catch them up to their grade levels and learning curricula. In 2019 the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that according to the Georgia Department of Education, there are approximately 19,000 special education positions available, yet only 2,600 are filled annually, leaving many special education assistance opportunities under-resourced to fully facilitate students. Through the open engagement and inclusivity of more staff, students, and parents around the school and community, I believe we can all bridge inequities in the educational system.

As the backbone of our society, education allows us to be financially stable and step into the careers we do until our old age. I understand how having educational quality can translate into career fulfillment, opportunity and success. My sister would like to become a lawyer, but as someone who struggles with epileptic seizures, she fell behind in her school classes due to cognitive confusion. I believe the educational system should provide more support to disadvantaged and marginalized school populations. Therefore, I hope underfunded schools with minorities, students with disabilities, and first-generation immigrants and college students grant the support so students can be successful anywhere.

For more information, help or to help: 

If you are interested in learning more about people with disabilities or finding resources to help students with disabilities, please view the links below.

Bridging the Education Gap: Organizations That Can Change Your Child’s Life” – Essence This article highlights three organizations that support students with disabilities. 

Communities in School – 800-CIS-4Kids (800-247-4543) & Communities in Schools of Atlanta a nonprofit that hopes to maximize students’ potential entering their post-secondary careers. This organization works to bridge the gaps between disadvantaged students, such as those with disabilities, to allow equal results for all.

Helping Kids with Neurological Disorders in the Classroomarticle from Brain & Life magazine

Learning or neurological disorders” – University of Wollongong  – If you’re interested in learning more, this article explains different neurological disorders and how they may affect students’ learning potential during the school day.

The Arc202-534-3700 – If this article moved you to take action, this nonprofit organization supports those struggling with disabilities. You may also become a volunteer and offer services for others with disabilities in Georgia and around the world. 

Victoria Ayodele, 17, is a Nigerian student at Lithonia High School, a Title-1 high school serving predominantly first-generation students, immigrants, and low-income minorities. She enjoys the creative arts and neuroscience. She is passionate about improving society as a state board president of the Youth United Board in Metropolitan Atlanta.

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