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#RethinkSchool: The Life-Changing Difference the Right School Makes

If you’d met Micah Ohanian before seventh grade, you’d encounter a young man who was struggling to succeed in an assigned neighborhood school, yet, a student who was determined to find an academic environment that truly worked for him.

“School choice benefited me,” he says simply, “in the best way.”

Micah describes the teaching approach at his former middle school as forging ahead from topic to topic on an inflexible schedule, with few accommodations for students with different learning needs.

“We went from one subject to the next,” he notes. “The school’s structure wasn’t giving me an opportunity to actually grasp the concepts.  Also, I was being bullied, and that made everything more difficult for me. I think the only two classes I was passing were art and physical education.”

Micah had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – ADHD – and his parents wanted to enroll him in a local public charter school they felt would best meet his needs: San Diego’s High Tech High – a village of thirteen elementary to high schools.  The trouble was students could only be accepted to this highly-competitive charter network by winning a lottery.

“My parents had been trying to get me into one of the High Tech Elementary Charter Schools since second grade,” Micah explains. “I was in the lottery and on the wait list every year. That was really stressful for my parents. I thought the support structure for kids with ADHD and disabilities was much better and I’d achieve there.”

Micah Ohanian

Then at last, midway through seventh grade, a student’s unexpected departure created an opening for Micah.

Within days of his arrival at his new school, his parents noticed a difference in their son. He was happy, with a passion for where he was and for learning. This transformation was a huge relief.

At his new school, Micah felt at home – and flourished. “I was able to come out of my shell.  It was awesome.  By the end of my first week, it felt like it was the only school I’d ever been to.  My grades started rising.”

Still, the road wasn’t always smooth.

“In high school, I dealt with mental health issues, which brought my grades down to a C average. During that rough part in my life, my teachers were very supportive, always helping me out whenever I needed it.  So, they saw me fail at times, but they also helped me succeed.”

Since his pre-teen years, as a result of anxiety and depression, Micah had suffered from auditory hallucinations. He kept these experiences secret until his sophomore year, when he was enrolled at the Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs High Tech High – located on the same campus as the charter network’s elementary and middle schools.  “When I started talking about it, the school had nothing but support for me.  I ended up checking myself in for treatment, and missed a month of school.  When I came back, they just tried to do what was best for me, and helped me get re-adjusted.”

Today, thanks to personalized support that met his unique needs, right when he needed it the most – Micah is attending community college, doing well, and excited about the future. He knows he can make a contribution to the world, in all his endeavors.

The schools of his choice have prepared him, he says confidently, “not only for college, but for life.”


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Note: This is a post in our #RethinkSchool series. The series features innovative schools and stories from students, parents and educators highlighting efforts across the United States to rethink school. Check back on Thursdays for new posts in the series. The #RethinkSchool series presents examples of approaches schools, educators, families and others are using to rethink school in their individual and unique circumstances. Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The Department of Education does not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

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