Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It's Time

As a disabled person in a mainstream high school, life is not easy or simple. There's always things that seem impossible to deal with, things that are not supposed to be so complicated. But, I guess that's the life of a young disabled person. I have been living with this kind of attitude for my whole high school career. It's hard to live with it everyday, and I can't anymore.

Three weeks ago the new term started. I couldn't go to school. I felt immensely unhappy. For two days I did nothing but cry and eat Nutella (it's my comfort food). I couldn't be in a place where I feel unwanted and unnecessary.

So, my mom suggested to me that I write an open letter to the school, sharing everything that I'm feeling. It took me 4 hours to write this letter - not because it was long enough to warrant that amount of time, but because it was really difficult to write all my feelings in one place. After I wrote it, i felt a weird sense of exhiliration, like it was finally time for people to actually listen to what I had to say and do something about it. I sent it to various people at the school, because it was addressed to everybody. I sent the letter on the 23rd of July. I'm still waiting for any kind of response or acknowledgement of receipt. I don't know how long I'm expected to wait...

Here is the open letter that I wrote to my school:


Dear BHS management, staff and pupils

I don’t know how you are going to receive this letter but I think it’s important that I send it. Not just for myself but for any other people who might feel the same as I do.

Let me start off by saying thank you. I want to say thank you to all of the people at the school who help me with various things. I want to say thank you to all the boys who have helped me – and the boys who will be helping me – up and down stairs on a daily basis. I am always going to be grateful to you for being such gentlemen and being so helpful in a seemingly small way that is actually a huge act that allows me to exercise my right to an education. Thank you a million times. To all the people who have helped rally the troops on my behalf, it’s an awesome thing that you’ve all done. You’ve taken some of the stress of my disability away from me. Thank you.

Then, I want to say thank you to all my teachers. I don’t know if you realise what an impact you all have had on my life at school. I believe that you are the people who have made my school experience bearable. When I’m in your classrooms I feel like you have an understanding of my needs. It’s a great relief to ride into a classroom and not have to worry about what people may say because I know that you will make a plan. I don’t think you can ever truly understand how much I appreciate your attitude. You’re amazing!

But now I need to share with you the reason for this letter. Every day when I come to school I feel as if I am just one of the many that make up the school population, which is strange because you would think that I would feel like I’ve made a difference to the school, that I’ll be remembered for my contribution to the school, because the school is seemingly more inclusive and accepting. I don’t feel that way.

I started to wonder why it is that I don’t feel this pride for my school that many others feel. I think I’ve found some things that could explain it. I’m a pretty average student. I have an average academic performance. I don’t play any school sport because I’m unable to due to my disability. I feel like many achievements I have in my life outside of school-life are gone unnoticed by the school. I feel that a student that does not excel in sport at school or have great academic skills is made to feel as if they’re at the school to make up the numbers. I don’t believe there is much of a feeling of appreciation or acceptance of people who don’t add value in terms of “A’s” or sporting achievements.

I know that every person at Bergvliet High School has something valuable to offer the school. If we didn’t, why would you accept us in the first place? I feel that many have forgotten the importance of telling a person that they matter, that if we weren’t there the school would be less because of it, that the people up top care that we are there. I don’t know how you can expect us to deliver a high standard of everything if we are never told that we did a good job when we do deliver. It wears a person down.

I feel like an outsider. I feel like when people look at me they are wondering what I’m doing at this school. People don’t say the words. It’s in their eyes. It’s in the way they act when they’re around me. I guess I should be used to it, with my being in a wheelchair and all. I have a good amount of resilience for this kind of thing, but when you have to live with other people’s eyes staring in your direction all of the time, your stash of resilience starts to run out. Mine is running out fast. School is supposed to be a place where your troubles go away because you’re in a place where you feel you belong. My being in a wheelchair makes stairs a problem – it’s difficult for me to get into a classroom. I can’t have an independent education experience because I can’t get into classes independently. It’s not dignified for any person to have to be assisted to a place of learning. I’m sometimes seen as rude when people help me because they don’t hear me saying thank you. I speak softly and sometimes it takes a little time for me to get right in my chair again, after the boys have lifted me, and by this time, the boys have disappeared. I feel that people expect me to be nothing but grateful for being given a space in the school. Sometimes I feel that I’m not expected to want the same educational opportunities, or to act as any other 16 year old does.

I thought a school was supposed to nurture and cherish its students. I thought a school was supposed to grow and assist its students when they have struggles or weaknesses and help them to become better people. I thought a school was supposed to be a place of enrichment, warmth and acceptance. Instead, I’m experiencing our school to be a place where students are not seen as adding value unless it’s convenient and requires minimal effort. I feel that students who have certain problems are passed off to the counsellors to “fix”.

I’m sad that I feel this way because when I started at Bergvliet in Grade 8, I was so excited that I was at this school. I end up here, in Grade 11, unhappy. I feel, with all my heart that my high school experience didn’t have to be this way. I also believe that I’m not the only student who feels this way. I understand that I have a unique set of circumstances, but every person at Bergvliet has a unique set of circumstances, and it shouldn’t impact our being accepted. It should be embraced. People shouldn’t be made to feel like outsiders because of being different.

I think it’s awful that I have to live my life at school quietly: unseen and unheard. I’m not speaking about the rules and regulations of the school. I’m talking about the fact that I have to fight to be accepted, I have to fight to belong, and if I don’t have the strength to fight, I just have to deal with not belonging because it’s doesn’t seem important enough for the school to address. Maybe you don’t want to know how many people at Bergvliet High feel like outsiders or feel that they don’t belong, but I think it’s really wrong for anyone to have to be unhappy because of the insecurities of other people.

I hope that by writing this, people who are feeling the same as I do have a platform to raise their voices, to share their problems and sadness. I hope they can share their feelings openly where they will not be judged for the way they feel. I hope the school will receive it with an open mind to finding solutions to our problems. The school always says that we need to show the world how great Bergvliet is. I believe this will happen when Bergvliet becomes open to accepting criticism and acknowledges the fact that it has flaws and commits to working at making them strengths. Then Bergvliet will be a great place to be, a happy place to be, a place where each learner is accepted, a place where each person belongs.

With hope,
Chaeli Mycroft


  1. Dear Chaeli,

    Thank you for being so open and honest about how you feel and what your experience has been like at BHS. I am a teacher at BHS that has never had the privilege of even meeting you, as our paths have not crossed. I came across your blog now though and believe that everything happens for a reason.

    It saddens me that you have had such a difficult journey here at BHS and I think that many students, those void of disabilities as well, feel insecure and neglected. I think that that is part of being a teenager. Wanting to make a difference in peoples lives, wanting your life to mean something. I am sorry that you have felt that BHS has not assisted you in this. I think that you have made very many valid points and that we should all come together, teachers, students, cleaning staff, admin and creatively try to find solutions.

    Your emotions that you share are so raw and real that I doubt those who read it will be able to not feel something, whether it be anger in disagreement or total compassion, your writing will evoke emotion and that is a powerful thing. I commend your courage, as sharing one's true self is opening oneself to judgement, but you have taken that risk it the hope to see people grow. Thank you.

    I know that what I have replied may not be of any relevance as I have not provided any solutions, but I feel your writing deserves acknowledgement and that you know that you have evoked emotion in me.

    Yours Sincerely.

  2. Dear Chaeli

    I am a teacher a BHS, have not yet had the pleasure of teaching you.

    I read your letter to BHS and I understand what you are saying and why. I congratulate you on being so open and honest which is a tough thing to do.

    I would be very interested to hear from you, from the ground as it were, what you would suggest as possible solutions to this problem?

    I understand the problem but am at a loss as to an idea where to start to fix it.


  3. Dear Chaeli

    This is your aunty from the land of far, far away. How proud I am of you! You are without a doubt a young person of terrific pluck - I just LOVE your beautifully-written letter. Even though your sadness seeps through, there is such valour evident in the obvious 'wrestling session' you've been through. Take heart, my sweetheart, even though this letter may cause more than a few ripples (waves in fact), your heartcry is going to impact quite a few lives - something you were born to. Your life is a testimony! Continue being brave. Continue being daring. Continue being you. I love you!

  4. Hello Chaeli,
    I know exactly what you are saying darling! I've read your letter & my heart
    just ached. It is a great shock to me that you're no longer at BHS. It's
    Lillian- and I've been at BHS until last year as a facilitator for a blind

    I look at the anonymous teachers' postings & can only shake my head in
    despair. It's your 4th year at BHS and they still want to come up with

    Your comments are spot on. I think that you and all the others like you are
    just so courageous to get up every morning & put on your "daily battle
    dress" to get through another day.

    I have been so BLESSED to be able to work with a blind learner in a
    mainstream school - it was my first time being so one on one with a disabled
    person.. But what an AWESOME journey. And thru him I got to meet you and
    your mom as well.

    We have been blessed to get to know and work with a few teachers, very very
    few, who were truly committed to helping us & to make the situation bearable
    until things became just too ridiculous- for lack of a better word.

    Take care darling
    Lots of love

  5. hi there Chaeli :)

    Well, I must admit, this is not the first time I have come across your name. I've always seen you in the YOU and other various things for your work and foundation :)

    I actually saw that one of my good friends had become friends with you on facebook and with your very interesting spelling it clicked.. So I found your blog.

    Wow, at 2am I couldn't sleep because school was running through my mind. And it was amazing how your posts just hit the nail for me.

    I'm at quite a reputable school and have been for 12 years (grade 11 like you) and the fact of the matter is I realised that going to school does not make me happy. The classes, the people, the teachers.. Everything to be honest.

    " I’m talking about the fact that I have to fight to be accepted, I have to fight to belong, and if I don’t have the strength to fight, I just have to deal with not belonging"

    - I think that that hits home a lot, if you are not like everyone else, of the same mentality, you do not belong.

    Funnily enough, it is also Reddam that I would like to move to - so if I'm lucky enough to, I will surely give you a hello. Its a scary step.

    (If you also might want to check out my blog - www.goldenchameleon.blogspot.com)

    :) amy