The Dallas Morning News: Guiding special-ed students on path to college

Victor Johnson said he understands the value of hard work and preparation. “I was taught if you don’t have a plan, you have a plan to fail,” said Johnson, a senior who is taking advantage of DeSoto High School’s new multimedia program for special education students.

MyGraduationPlan is a national online resource created by Excent, a Roswell, Ga. based company that develops special education software. Starting in middle school, students in DeSoto can use the program to map a path h from high school to college.

In its second year at Desoto, the program is an interactive online resource that increases self-awareness and encourages self-advocacy. Students can use the curriculum to discover strengths, needs and interests, enabling them to design a plan aiding in the transition from high school to the college admissions process and beyond.

“It has enhanced our [special education] program because of the individuality of the program,” Desoto High School principal Cheryl Ensley said. In high school, special education students are active members and participants of their Admissions, Review and Dismissal committee and Individualized Education Program. MyGraduationPlan is an additional resource available for students who have disabilities such as ADHD and dyslexia and meet state requirements for accommodations.

Ensley said she expects the program to be a long-term resource for students at DeSoto, rated academically acceptable by the Texas Education Agency. It’s designed to help improve graduation rates, she said.

“It puts the focus on the individual and the individual student’s needs,” Ensley said. The eight-step program is designed to empower students to take ownership of their futures.

“At first, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I get older,” said junior Sterling Benjamin, whose dream is to become a veterinarian.

Benjamin, whose parents moved to the U.S. from the southern Caribbean island of Trinidad, said he has learned to be more focused and has a new mind-set since he started using MyGraduationPlan. “I learned you can do good in school,” he said.

For some, such as senior Tony Contreras, it’s become an essential tool for navigating the sometimes confusing process of college applications, essays and financial aid forms. Contreras said he will be the second member of his family to go to college, and he wants to set a good example for his 14-year-old brother.

“As an older brother, I have to step up and teach him,” Contreras said. Johnson, who has applied to three schools, hopes to attend Prairie View A&M University. He said MyGraduationPlan is “like one of the jump-starts to success.”

For others, the program is becoming an essential step in realizing their long-term goals. “Don’t let anybody stop you … from your dreams,” Benjamin said.

-Jana J. Pruet

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