Monday, June 13, 2011

Failures or Successes? Let's redefine what success in college means!

Is it a tragedy to fail a class in college? I don't really think so. My psychiatrist told me that he failed chemistry his first time around. My physics/math instructor failed several classes along the way, but he repeated those classes and still managed to get his masters degree. My friend, who has severe cerebral palsy and severe dyslexia, had to repeat a few college classes. Yet, she still managed to get her bachelor's degree. I heard Winston Churchill failed his first English class, and yet I believe he went on to be a great speaker and writer. Many re-entry students may have a staggered academic record, yet when they return to college, often via a community college and transfer to 4 year college/university, they get their bachelor degrees and possibly their graduate/professional degrees.

I have gone to college with a wide range of students, some have passed every class on the first try and some haven't. Some graduate miraculously with their AA/AS degrees in 2 years and bachelor's in 4 years. Being able to get through depends on several factors including major, family responsibilities, working, any physical, psychiatric, and/or learning challenges a person might have, their age, and the level of support, strength, courage, and tenacity that person possesses.

At a recent college graduation, where the graduates ranged from 18 years old to 73 years old. I grant you that it is a junior college, but majority of the graduates were transfering to various universities in California. The transfers varied widely and 2-3 students were transferring to Standford University, several were transferring to every University of California universities and several California State University universities. What I appreciated was that they had a re-entry student scholar award as well as the other awards.

Let's help people change their idea as to what it means to succeed in college, and help them realize that it's never too late to pursue your dreams. I have several friends, who started college in their late 30's and now have their AA degrees, their bachelor's degrees and some have also entered graduate school. I also know 2 students, who started at a younger age, but because of learning disabilities and/or ADHD (as well as other psychiatric disorders) have taken longer to earn their degrees. But you know all these people I mentioned have persevered and continue to persevere no matter what. We don't let our challenges, our college marks, or our age to stop us from succeeding. Yes these hurdles come with their pain and yes it is tough to keep trying. Yes it is sometimes to difficult to find the strength, courage, and hope to keep pursuing in the face of what some people say is "bad" or when people tell us "see you can't do it" or tell us we are "failures". However, we manage to find it within us somewhere. We know we have each other to support us. We know deep down that we are smart enough, we know we have something to offer this world, we know there is something that we are called to do.

These are some of the people I want to help as a ADHD/life coach. I want to see these students succeed. I want to see these students get the support they need. I see this group of students underrepresented in the ADD/ADHD literature. I see them underrepresented by coaches. I see them underrepresented by mental health professionals. Yet I see very capable people, who get very worn out by there tenacious drive. They are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, aggravated/taxed executive function, ADHD and learning differences. What ever systems in their bodies are most vulnerable to wear and tear from stress and over working can break down. Yet a lot of them still make it through and succeed. They are the ones getting some support. The ones who aren't getting any support, encouragement, and tools to reduce the stress and make life manageable don't always go as far as they dreamed of.

It doesn't have to be this way. We need to look at the struggles and challenges that these students, ie. re-entry students and the ones who take longer to get through, and work to understand what supports they need to help them succeed.

Most of the information on ADHD, learning disorders and other challenges are directed at parents of high schoolers transitioning into college. Usually these students have parents to pay for college, housing, and other essentials. Yes those kids need that type of support, although I believe it would be more helpful to start prepping these kids at 13 rather than 18. However, the group of students I mentioned don't have this parental support. The re-entry and perseverant students, whether ADHD or not, have other challenges. We may have kids (some of which may have challenges of their own), significant others, aging parents, they maybe single parents. They may probably have rent to pay, bills to pay, kids' schedules to keep track of, their own schedule to contend with, work, and if they squeeze any more energy out of themselves, they study and do a few extracurricular activities. They may not be getting enough sleep, good nutrition, self care and so forth.

I know I got on my soapbox about this topic, but I have brought it up before and keep getting resources designed for younger, traditional age students. I think re-entry students and longstanding/perseverant students have some different challenges to face. We need to look at what we can do to help these mature, tenacious students feel equal to the traditional students. Besides the ADDed benefit of having older college students around is that they can actually serve as great role models for the younger, more traditional students. Plus they ADD the benefit of life experience and diversity of the college community. Let's also cheer them on more.

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