Graduate Spotlight: Lavender
YOU CAN’T HELP BUT LOVE THIS FUTURE—WHERE EVERYTHING’S COMING UP LAVENDER
Meet Lavender Capenos-Paolucci
A resident of Blair County, Pennsylvania, Lavender is an 18-year-old with aspirations most adults never even consider—including becoming a transportation engineer focused on green energy, assuming the role of partial guardianship for her older sister and becoming a force to be reckoned with in the arena of female politicians. With all this on her future plate, she also hopes to have time to keep up her ice hockey activities and support of beauty pageants for individuals with special needs—and by the time you’re through with this story, you’ll have to agree that, if anyone can do all this, Lavender can! Of all the things she loves and adores, at the very top of Lavender’s list is her family—mother, Kim; older sister, Marabeth; and younger sister, KashmirPaige. Like Lavender, both her sisters are on the autism spectrum.
Lavender’s Journey to Agora
To say Lavender was, and remains, a “bright child” is a vast understatement. She was reading at the tender age of 3, and when her classmates were learning the alphabet, Lavender was so advanced that her instructors presented her with books at a fifth-grade reading level. Still, Lavender’s autistic challenges manifested in wild behavior, intense sensory issues and the inability to sit still for relatively short periods, making time in a traditional classroom not only an uncomfortable experience but also a traumatic one. Even with a therapeutic support staff, the combination of not being academically challenged and having autism became too much. Lavender stuck with her brick-and-mortar elementary school through kindergarten and first grade, but her mother knew it was time for a change. Her work schedule and care of three daughters took homeschooling out of the equation. Plus, she knew her daughter needed as “real” a school experience as possible—but also one that offered the flexibility for Lavender to engage in behaviors that mitigated her sensory challenges, her need to keep moving and her tendency to act out when situations became too intense. After exploring several cyber school options, Agora Cyber Charter School was the only one that could meet their needs.
“Agora was where we were meant to be,” said Kim. I couldn’t have been more thrilled when I saw her second-grade curriculum. We expanded into so many subjects. Agora was there to save the day.”
Charting a New Course with Agora
The positive change in Lavender’s educational experience—in her attitude and actions when it came to her new schooling—was apparent almost immediately. She quickly became comfortable with and appreciative of the opportunities Agora offered to accommodate her learning style. Lavender became well known for being a vibrant, engaged participant in her classes. She especially embraced using the microphone to express herself and converse with teachers and her peers. As for Kim, on top of seeing her daughter go from school trauma to pure joy in the learning process, one of the most significant values Agora brought was an instant partnership formed through sincere efforts to understand the family’s unique needs and implement solutions to meet them.
The experience was transformative for Lavender. So it didn’t take long for Kim to recognize Agora needed to become a full family experience. Soon, she had enrolled Lavender’s two sisters—both of whom also are challenged by autism, and one of whom is medically fragile—at Agora. Once again, Agora collaborated with the family to create highly individualized approaches for Marabeth and KashmirPaige. This included partnering with a local autism school to “split the time” so that Marabeth could benefit from the core capabilities and specialties of both schools. Lavender loves Agora’s synchronous learning capabilities and engages on the platform about 95% of the time—only using Agora’s asynchronous option for health reasons or when family medical visits are needed.
“Agora’s flexibility and ability for us to take the classroom wherever we have to be is crucial,” said Kim. “We have cybered all over the place—both with live classes and asynchronously.”
The family has even been known to attend school from the local library when one of the girls needs a change of environment. Lavender also relishes the peer and learning experiences offered through Agora Days Out and clubs—and currently she engages in as many as 10 Agora clubs, while also traveling for science clubs at Penn State’s Altoona and Main campuses.
“Agora has been able to help by not only educating me but also giving me an opportunity to learn so many things throughout my life about acceptance, culture and diversity—how to gain a new perspective in understanding one another,” said Lavender.
Visions for the Future
The girl who once couldn’t go to the supermarket without becoming overwhelmed and violent has blossomed into a confident, socially comfortable young woman who is ready to change the world around her for the better. Although college is in the cards for Lavender, the exact path will become clearer once the pandemic is less of a health risk. In the meantime, Lavender will keep moving forward in other ways—including becoming partial guardian of her sister and entering into politics. In fact, Lavender recently joined her mother in running for the Tyrone Borough Council and she won her primary contest! Lavender will now run in the November general election and she recently received a special request from senator Bob Casey who wanted to meet the 18-year-old who won her first election before graduating high school and will someday hold his office.
“If we’re not part of the different branches of government, we’re not going to get what we want,” said Lavender. “We need to advocate for ourselves in this country. I want to be part of the change I want to see happen!”
Lavender graduates in June with the rest of her senior class and is excited for what the future holds.