Born with Spina Bifida, Maria faced unique challenges, particularly when she moved to the United States from Bulgaria at the age of 11. Arriving in the U.S. with no prior experience in a traditional school setting, her educational journey began. Despite her wheelchair, Maria not only attended school but actively participated in sports, attended dances, graduated from high school, and even earned her associates degree.
Maria defied expectations and thrived, thanks in part to the support she received from the AEA. Her AEA team included physical therapists, special education consultants, literacy consultants, and ELL support.
Maria also found success as part of the track team. Several track coaches who had special education backgrounds worked diligently to ensure she felt like an integral part of the team. Maria competed against her times and national standards rather than against her able-bodied counterparts. Despite the challenges, she participated twice in the state track meet, with a potential third time thwarted by the pandemic during her senior year. Whether racing solo or in a team, she always experienced unwavering support and inclusion.
Maria accessed an AEA literacy consultant and ELL support to help her gain the skills she needed while learning English. This additional support was instrumental in her academic journey, ensuring language barriers did not hinder her progress. Her dedication to learning and personal growth is evident in her academic achievements, including earning her associate degree from Indian Hills Community College.
Since October, Maria has been working at Pickwick, contributing as an associate in one of the preschool classrooms. While still exploring long-term career options like many individuals her age, Maria has found fulfillment and joy in her role. This initial job experience has given her valuable skills and insights into her interests and capabilities.
Maria's story is one of triumph over adversity, illustrating the transformative power of inclusive education and a supportive community. AEA staff, alongside dedicated coaches and mentors, played a pivotal role in shaping Maria's path to success. Her journey inspires us to reconsider preconceived notions about abilities and disabilities, emphasizing the importance of creating inclusive environments that empower individuals to achieve their fullest potential.