Toby Paperno

I often think about the friends I left behind at my old school, the kids who needed more but got less.
— Toby

I’ll never forget opening my middle school acceptance letter. I had gotten into my fourth choice, while all my friends had gotten into my two top picks, the only two middle schools anyone in my white, middle-class neighborhood ever talked about. 

There was a huge stigma attached to my middle school, due to it being the most diverse middle school in the district. 

I was terrified everyone at PS 10 would shame me so, I knew what I had to do, I just had to lie about what school I got into.

My mother tried to switch me into one of my preferred schools, as I had been given my IEP on the last day of fifth grade, my grades weren’t an accurate reflection of my abilities.

My English teachers assumed that because I was reading at a high level my writing was up to par. It wasn’t. In 6th grade, I was stuck writing at a 4th-grade level and reading at a 9th-grade level. Some teachers would go easier on me because of my IEP, reinforcing my poor habits.

Almost everyone was different from me, I didn’t know who to make friends with. So, I did what was natural: I found my place with the eight kids in my grade, with similar stories as mine.

In 8th grade, I had an amazing social studies teacher, he helped me appreciate the diversity in my middle school and get out of my comfort zone to make friends with kids throughout the whole grade.

Soon it was time to apply to high school. That spring, I stared with disbelief at my high school letter: I had gotten into Beacon, my top choice school!

Only two other kids in my school got into Beacon even though many others had listed it as their top choice. How come we got in and they didn’t?

Then it dawned on me. We had someone to help us practice our interviews, parents that would help us with our portfolios and advocate for us.

My middle school has a high school that’s filled with kids who didn’t get into schools like Beacon. It has even fewer resources than the middle school. The kids like me that went on to different high schools needed less support than the rest of the kids in my grade, but, in a strange twist, they ended up in schools that would provide more support than they needed.

Now, I go to a school that provides me with every activity I could want, several music studios where I can play the drums whenever, a beautiful library, and a PTA that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

I often think about the friends I left behind at my old school, the kids who needed more but got less. I am one of about 200,000 students in New York City with an IEP, but I am one of the lucky ones. I get the services I need in an inclusive classroom setting. According to city reports, more than 48,000 students with IEPs only partially received their services last year or didn’t get them at all. A report from NYU’s Research Alliance showed that Black and Latinx students and low-income students with IEPs are more likely to be separated into different classrooms. Many of these kids’ parents don’t have as much time or resources to navigate the system and advocate for their children as mine did.

They are left behind.