Tag: college

‘I Will Do Better’

New year is difficult. You feel the pressure and exhilaration of trying to make this ‘your year’. If you have OCD this can become a compulsion. All year long I promise myself that I would do better on a huge array of things. Some people call it determination, I wouldn’t say that. It is constant feelings of disappointment and perfectionism and it is intensified by the season.

For example last summer I received my AS level results. I opened the envelope and was relieved that I had done well in two exams but received a ‘U’ in my other subject’s main paper. A ‘U’ is actually worse than a fail, and as I had recieved pretty respectable grades in mock exams despite being poorly I had no idea how I’d managed to get such a low grade. Had I gone into an episode during the exam? Somebody would have definitely noticed. Anyway, I went home in tears and used a drawing pin to attach the piece of paper to the side of my wardrobe. The purpose of this was to ‘make me work harder’. I knew deep down that I had worked hard anyway and that the grade was unusual for me, but I accepted and internalised that it was because I was rubbish.

A week or so later my tutor ordered my exam back to see how I’d got it so terribly wrong. She opened the paper and found that three quarters of it were missing. The exam board had lost all but one of my questions before marking and I was given a U. It wasn’t my grade after all and so it got corrected, however the piece of paper is still nailed onto my wardrobe. I must be a glutton for self torture.

The same thing haunts me with coursework. It takes ages as I read it again and again irrationally fearing it contains a murder confession or expletives, I can never hand it in because there is always something in my mind that I need to add or do to make it ‘better’. I set a lot of resolutions this new year, most of which talked about improving on 2016. What I didn’t think about when writing them into the front of my journal was that last year wasn’t a bad year. I wasn’t locked in a ward and there was no major traumas. It was pretty alright by previous years’ standards. By desperately trying to improve too much, mostly on things I can’t change, I will likely send myself back into oblivion and that would not make 2017 good at all.

This is a rambly post because my head made the first post of the year into a big deal, when actually it shouldn’t be. What I’m trying to say is:

Just try not to have a worse year than the one before and do what you love. That’s enough. 

An Empty Room With An Open Door – One Year at College

That’s it, my college room is empty and everything is packed up. I have officially left behind room A9 and all of its memories. This year has been the only academic year I feel I can look back on and smile. Why… I’ll tell you.

My college isn’t the biggest. We are a whole community made up of a minority- people with a visual impairment. It is a bizarre scenario where the minority becomes the majority, and it’s fantastic when even minorities within the minority are accepted with open arms. College is a plethora of different mother-tongues, religions, lifestyles and diversity. People are accepting, because we all know how it feels to be the odd one out.

Everyone is allowed to make mistakes. No one is mollycoddled or discouraged, quite the opposite in fact. You can burn your budget supermarket beans as many times as you like, as long as you don’t set the place on fire in the process there will always be someone to laugh with you about it. You mess up sometimes, and living in college is all about learning how to sort it out for yourself and avoid doing it again next time.

You can be naughty. This will never go in any college prospectus, but it’s true. Many of the students in college have been under the watchful eyes of teaching assistants for the vast majority of their school lives. The pressure this puts a student under is immense: your TA will always know when you didn’t answer question 8h of your algebra homework or misspelt ‘separate’ on page 6 of your essay. I remember the first time at college that I decided I wasn’t going to go to dinner, this is as naughty as I get I’m afraid. No one had previously said that dinner was compulsory but it was a convention I could break. Newly equipped with my new found skills in using the microwave (later advancing to hob, oven and grill techniques) I literally ate freedom for dinner.

People are a big thing. This year I’ve learnt something very valuable. I’ve learnt to let people in and to let them help me. Guess what? It is OK to need help sometimes! In college I feel safe and have established good relationships with staff and students. I feel I can go to them if something is wrong or when everything is falling to bits. I’m always being listened to. The friends who know how little sleep I am getting, so stay awake all night instead of moving me from their bed where I’ve dropped off to my own. The staff who come and sit in offices which smell like antibacterial gel with me and help me make thoughts into words. The ones who hug and the ones who have hope.

My college seems very good at taking in the people who have had it tough. There are a lot of people who have experienced things, discrimination and bullying, which no one should ever have to go through. But somehow everyone gets patched back together or at least get a few steri-strips. Watching people who had no mobility skills at the start of term fly around campus makes me buzz. Seeing people laughing and joking who at first sat silently makes me happy. Change is constantly in the air.

And me? I’ll be back in September, and I can’t wait. College is the first place I’ve been accepted as just being me and where I learnt a bit about how people work, myself included. It’s where I finally got the medical treatment I so desperately needed and where I learnt that I love to learn. Sure, AS didn’t go too well, but I have learnt a lot outside of academia which will support me next year as I focus even more on my studies. I remember my droopy self a week into the new term panicking and being comforted by residential support officer, R. He said “All people come here with baggage. It’s just a case of what’s in the bags and how best you can put them down”. Wise words, and if all I’ve done this year is learn to lower the bags then I am very happy. They are not dropped yet, far from it, but they are now more of a wheelie trolley than a 1000L backpack strapped to me. This way I can walk much further.

Thank you everyone who has been there for me this year.

 

Partying and The Like

Whether it is a ‘leavers ball’ or ‘prom’ parties are the talk of every school when it comes to summer. My college is no different! Everyone dressing up, dancing and drinking- is there a better way to spend one of the last nights of term?!

I dressed up with everyone else and found myself, possibly for the first time in my life, feeling comfortable in a party scenario. My girlfriend Z made the trip down to come with me and everyone looked lovely. The prom was in the Arts College across the road which (ironically) is being leased to them by my college. So we reclaimed the territory for the night.

There was lots of cheesy music and I danced with people I love, new and old. Seeing lecturers all dressed up and slightly tipsy was hilarious and I danced until I had to abandon my heels… Then carried on dancing.

The night ended with myself and Z driving good friend, M, home in her electric wheelchair as she seemed to have suddenly become intoxicated at the wheel. The event really showed the togetherness of our college and how tight-knit our community really is. All the leavers will be sorely missed. I’m sure they will all do well in their blindingly bright futures… (Ha!)

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Finding The Handless Toddler and His Creepy Cohort

Getting up early on a saturday isn’t usually my idea of fun, I like to laze about with catch up television and cups of tea until mid morning, but today I made an exception. I love taking pictures. I take them everywhere and of anything. I like to capture places, objects and people continuing to go about whatever they are doing. I don’t see the point in moving things around or making people pose in photographs because the picture then doesn’t depict the moment it was taken in. I would never necessarily attach the word ‘photography’ to this hobby of mine. I just bumble about and take photos as I go. ‘Photography’ is expensive lenses, knowing what macro is and being able to use dropbox. Certainly not me. But today I decided to take a chance on a student notice at college and take part in a photography project.

College took a minibus of five students, including myself, up to Ebbw Vale in Wales. This is somewhere that I had never even heard of before and had previously misread in the email as ‘Elbow Vail’. When we set off the sun was shining but as we crossed the Welsh border we found that snow was falling thick and fast. We gathered at a coffee shop where I met L from UCAN for the first time. She was a lovely lady, who very patiently explained to me what ‘Aperture’ is and how I can use it to my advantage in photographs. She also very kindly sorted out my camera which used to have a tendency of overexerting itself on the zoom button. The snow was still coming down when we left the cafe to start taking pictures.

The first place we went to was a small Owl Sanctuary at the top of a steep hill. There were two tiny wooden buildings- one with small animals in and the other with birds. Lai was very pleased to see the owl, but the pale coloured bird wasn’t so stricken with her and made a horribly loud screech. At first I was pretty nervous about taking photos. I knew that was the whole purpose of the trip but I wasn’t sure what everyone else was doing and didn’t want to seem like I was going overkill or, to another extreme, like I couldn’t be bothered. I soon settled in though, and continued my usual happy snapping of the things that I can sort of see and in the general direction of things I would like to. There was a slightly bizarre moment when the man working at the sanctuary mistook my polite ‘hello’ smile for an ‘I would like to hold an owl’ smile. I had unwittingly had the glove put on my hand and before my discomfort could be made known there was an owl walking on me. I was nervous and protested as politely as I could but he was now convinced I wanted to stroke the owl with my other hand also. Luckily at this point I was rescued by a member of staff who reiterated my point about not really wanting a large bird to sit on me and I was duly de-owled. The other building had degus, guinea pigs, smaller birds and a tortoise in. I preferred these to the owls because they all looked very sweet and I could imagine children visiting and spending ages watching them.

The owlA guinea pig behind bars

The weather turned into rain and icy winds. I was glad that I had brought my thick coat but I was still frozen. We all got back into the bus and went down to a small lake with a bridge. On a patch of waterlogged grass was a chilling set of stone statues. One of them was a huge boxing glove which in the rain cupped a small pool of water. The others were of babies and cherubs with terrifying pupil-less eyes and their skin mottled by the weather. These creepy statues reminded me of the children in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. No one in the group knew the relevance of these statues, but I think that made them endearing in a way. It was almost as if they had placed themselves there because it was so hard to imagine the rationality behind someone picking them. I began to think up stories and meanings behind them, particularly about the sinister toddler who’s hands I imagined to have either rotted away in the welsh weather or to have always been congenitally absent. I imagined him fighting away a sleek abstract sculpture that had been originally chosen to compliment the lake, bending the metal and sending it sliding into the blackness below the water’s surface. Once the battle had been won I pictured the other statues slowly creeping into place to join the terrifying toddler; where they would remain as relics of an event that no one was aware of. I do love art that lets you think up such strange ideas.

Stone baby, which seems to have a hand coming out of its stomach. It is mottled colours of grey with pupil-less eyes.A stone Skull on a rockA stone boxing glove.A cherub with pulling a face with bloated cheeks

The handless child with a quiff and blank eyes

When we had become too cold to push down the shutters of our cameras we headed back to college. I had a lovely day despite the weather and I am so glad it was so far from the stoney faced camera clutching that I feared.

Wet branches

Lai with soaking fur

NATSPEC Student Conference

On tuesday I had the pleasure of being part of the group representing my college at the NATSPEC student conference. NATSPEC is the Association of National Specialist Colleges and it works to connect and support all the specialist colleges in the country. The conference was set up to give the students of the colleges a chance to give their opinions on the specialist education system and to meet each other.

Unfortunately getting into a specialist college isn’t as easy as enrolling in a mainstream school. Funding needs to be granted from the local authority for a student to be educated elsewhere, and a case needs to be made for why the funding is necessary. The funding application process is long and stressful, and a lot of hard work needs to go into it. This is something that every student at the conference had to face to get to their specialist college, and why NATSPEC are working to change the system for the better to give more young people the opportunity to benefit from specialist education. The new Children and Families Act is due to change the specialist education system again, and it is important that the views of the people it will effect are shown now.

The conference was held at the very impressive  National Star College near Cheltenham. The day started with introductions and we were put into groups with a few representatives of each college per table. On our table we were sharing with some lovely staff and students from Derwen College who we quickly got chatting with. The activities involved writing down our answers to some set questions on large pieces of paper. They covered a range of topics- from what we would recommend about specialist colleges, to what NATSPEC should do to improve the current system. With each question came very valuable discussions and ideas began to fly. Everyone on the tables, both staff and students, were passionate about the fact that specialist education is vital and needs to be protected and made available for more young people. As funding gets more and more difficult to obtain for prospective students the more these colleges struggle to stay open. I had never really thought about the effects of the funding system on the colleges themselves, and it was a real eye opener to hear about it. All over the room I could hear words like ‘Life changing’ and ‘Independence’ being used and so many more positive words being scribbled in big letters on each group’s sugar paper. It breaks my heart that every year so many young people get denied these opportunities because of the harsh funding process.

When asked what I would say to someone thinking about going to a specialist college I replied: “You can stop worrying about your disability and start learning and living.” and I mean it with all my heart.

It was an amazing day and NATSPEC is now in the process of planning it’s new campaign using the ideas students gave. You can read more about NATSPEC here, and see my thoughts on my personal move to specialist education here. I’ve seen the way specialist education can change lives, and I think it is something that we should definitely be fighting for.

Moving Forwards

As I write this I am at my desk in a room that I didn’t know I would be living in less than two months ago. There is a suitcase on the floor with stuff spilling out as I attempt to pack. My ever faithful guide dog is asleep in her bed, choosing to ignore the chaos. I have been at my new college for seven weeks now and it is nearly half term, and time to go home.

If I think about all the things that I have done in the last seven weeks it feels like I have been here for a lifetime. I’ve grown so much in independence, resilience and responsibility. I’ve done so many weird and wonderful things and formed closer friendships than I could have ever hoped. If I think about the the amount of time that has passed between nervously getting out of the taxi with my Mum and Dad on the first day to right now, it feels almost non-existent.

Moving to a specialist college was hard at times because in some ways it felt like I was giving up on myself and on ‘the system’. I want to live as a person and not as an impairment, and I was afraid that the move to specialist education would contradict this aim. But I am proud that I have made the decision, because now I can learn and I can have just a normal college experience. Normal meaning not having to justify myself, or fight for my access to the curriculum. My college isn’t so different from any other- there are a wide range of pupils with different personalities and abilities, we do lectures in the day and have fun with friends at lunch and in the evenings. At my old school I was constantly having to justify why I needed help, why I was doing things in a certain way and why it mattered that I couldn’t read things. It was exhausting. Now I barely have to talk about my sight because it is just a matter of fact that everyone has their own requirements for learning. On letters from school it used to state that things should be in my ‘preferred’ reading format, as if it would be nice if I could have it but it wasn’t pressing if I didn’t. Now my lecturers know what I need and it is waiting for me on the desk when I come into the classroom. I don’t worry anymore, because the focus at college is certainly on the person rather than the impairment.

On top of normal subjects most people here do additional lessons. Transitional support helps us to plan what we are going to do when we leave here and independent living skills teaches us everything from ironing to cooking. It’s not all about learning to get grades, it’s about learning for life itself.

I’m home for the holidays now, and although it is good to be in my own bed and away from work for a while I can’t help but think about college. This time last year I was struggling; ill, stressed and there was a question mark over whether I would actually complete my secondary education. Moving on, the changes are huge and overwhelming, but so very positive. I am so grateful to my parents for putting massive resources of time and energy into helping me get the funding to go to college, and to the college itself of course.

Obviously I know that we live in a ‘mainstream’ world and that I am not always going to be able to have the same ease of access as I do at college. However after my experience of studying for GCSE’s with very poor access to the curriculum there was no way that I could repeat the process for my A Levels. Whilst at college I am learning what technology can help me from other people, rather than doing my own research and being unsure of what I actually need. There are many people in the VI community who see going into specialist education as isolating yourself from the ‘seeing’ world. I don’t see it like that at all! In my opinion going into the specialist system is helping me repair almost. I am learning that it is possible for me to learn properly and achieve given the right resources, and I am also learning what those resources are. When I do end my time at college, and hopefully move on to university, I will know what I need and how to produce it. I will have had the time to try different things- technologies, printed formats and techniques to know what I like and what works best for me. Going to college has taken away the day-to-day emphasis on my sight, and it is truly allowing me to see myself, and develop, as an individual. This is something that I needed to do very badly, and I am so grateful I have been able to. It is definitely onwards and upwards from here.

I'm in repair

Off His Trolley?

Some of you reading this will know that I set off to a residential college on friday. From friday onwards I will be living at college during term time. It is all very exciting, and there is a room downstairs currently dedicated to the boxes, bags and cases that will be used for the big move. My family is just as excited as I am but my Dad, being a chronic worrier, tends to go overkill at times like this. My packing currently consists of three (fairly light) plastic boxes, one large case with wheels and a few assorted bits and bobs. This is why I feel that what happened next was a little over the top.

Dad ordered a large industrial haulage trolley from the internet a few days ago because it will ‘help with carrying things’. Like any teenager I began to squirm. I don’t mind being different however being the girl with the father ferrying things around in a steel trolley worthy of british rail, wasn’t in the least bit desirable.

Yesterday was the due date for the trolley’s arrival. We waited in and surprisingly promptly there was a knock on the door and a large parcel.  The first saga to unfold (or not) was the box. It was a strange triangular shape and appeared to be welded to whatever was inside. Dad -in his enthusiastic state- then had to resort to tearing the box apart to reveal a large amount of shiny metal. The trolley was a large platform with a foldable handle- and I hated it already.

“How will you get it up the stairs?” I protested.
“There’s a lift.” Said Dad, not looking up from his new toy.
“What if someone using a wheelchair is moving in and needs to use the lift?” I retried. I got no response for this pretty weak argument.
“Can’t we just carry my stuff like the other families will be carrying theres?” I sighed. I really don’t want to stick out as odd the second I arrive at college.
“All the other parents will want one! They will be like: ‘Hey, who’s that guy with the trolley, we should get one like that.'” He responded- slipping into the half fantasy world where things like this are cool. I could tell that this would probably escalate quite quickly if I kept arguing. Looking at it despairingly once more I asked- “But where are the wheels?”

This was a good point. The bottom of the trolley seemed to be just smooth metal, with no sign of wheels what-so-ever. It looked as if it had been made as a solution for removal men in Greenland as a half sledge- half trolley. After some more rummaging we found the wheels hidden in the box. They had no instructions enclosed and as far as wheels went; these looked like they were made for the tricycles of the trolley world- rather than this huge delivery lorry.

With disappointed mutters he turned the trolley back to being the right way up. That’s when he noticed the tear. At the platform part of the trolley -where my relatively light bags would sit- there was a large gash through the middle. It looked as if it wouldn’t be able to carry my teacup, let alone a case. Sadly he packed it back into the torn box (with great difficulty) and organised for it to be sent back as faulty.

I can’t say I am sad at this loss and I am more inclined to dance with joy over the fortunate death of the trolley. As Dad doesn’t work as a porter, or a delivery man, I make the assumption that the trolley was unnecessary: though he argues it just isn’t as clear cut as that. I suppose we will only know who was right on friday…!

A humongous orange case carried by two struggling men