Stigmas can be difficult things to admit to. I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty accepting and empathetic person, so I was caught off guard by my response to a two-part article written by our very own Skyler Liu. The piece shined a light on Piedmont’s special education program, which I quickly discovered I knew very little about. Quotes from students Skyler had interviewed resonated deeply with me. “At first I thought there was something wrong with me,” said one. “[People are] rude sometimes and there are stereotypes of not being smart,” said another. I realized I had been going to school with students in the special education program for years, but had never really heard their perspectives before.
I’ve noticed that my classmates and I have a tendency to get onto a single track and hold on, with tunnel vision, until we’re wearing purple graduation gowns or opening up acceptance letters—achieving the honorable can be a selfish goal. But as each college-centric student ticks boxes on their resume, they lose touch with what is beyond the constraints of those four sharp lines. Is my transcript challenging enough? Should I take the SAT again? Even the question of community service can often be misguided. Endless volunteer opportunities, where mission statements tout promotion of diversity and unification, hold a special purpose in our community. But regardless, the meaning is lost if they’re simply being used to play the college acceptance game. Questions about my grades, my standardized test scores, and my volunteer hours have bounced around my mind for the past several years. Instead, I wish I had been asking myself: what can I do to improve my community for each student?
I want to recommend taking a second to look around. That could mean eating lunch away from the bench where I’ve sat for the past three years or maybe simply starting a conversation with someone I’ve never talked to. We, the students, can make this school a place of community, acceptance, and friendliness. First, though, we have to open our minds.
Tucked in the liberal bastion of the Bay Area, Piedmont might already seem to be an open and accepting community to some. However, after my experience with the special education story, I believe there’s still room for us to grow. We are a school of over 800 students and 12 percent are a part of the special education program. This 12 percent attends the same school as me and yet I had no concept of what their PHS experience was like until Skyler’s article. This realization spurred my desire to become a more accepting and welcoming community-member—a goal I think everyone could benefit from embracing.
Clubs like the Best Buddies Club, where students spend their lunches hanging out with peers in the special education program, set a shining example for meeting this goal. Actions as seemingly inconsequential as company and conversation can actually have a huge impact on our school—everyone should know that they have a unique, valued voice and should be comfortable enough to share it.