Be Elite Podcast Announces Podcast Student Leads for the 2023/2024 School Year

Are you ready for another exciting school year filled with entertaining podcasts? The Be Elite Podcast Club is thrilled to introduce our two Podcast Student Leads for the academic year. We're proud to announce Elisa as our Middle School Lead and Cindy as our High School Lead.

Mr. Smith, our Podcast Advisor, expressed his pride in this announcement, stating, "I am very proud of Elisa and Cindy being named our Student Leads. Both have been a massive part of the podcast in the past seasons, and both possess the leadership and creativity needed to take the Be Elite Podcast to new heights!"

For those unfamiliar with the Be Elite Podcast, it's a remarkable platform that is entirely student-driven. Our talented students are responsible for brainstorming topics, crafting thought-provoking questions, designing eye-catching graphics, and much more. As we enter our fourth season, we're excited to continue delivering engaging content to our listeners.

The Be Elite Podcast, available on YouTube, has already garnered a dedicated following. Our previous episodes have explored a diverse range of topics, including "A Day in the Life of an Elite Student," interviews with outstanding Student-Athletes, and even some entertaining Harry Potter trivia. Our commitment to delivering high-quality content remains unwavering, and we can't wait to share more compelling episodes with you.

To stay updated on all the exciting new episodes from the Be Elite Podcast and other outstanding content, we invite you to visit the Elite Academic Academy YouTube channel today at Don't forget to hit that subscribe button to ensure you never miss an episode!

Peak Performance Kick-Off 2023 at SoFi Stadium

We had a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime kickoff to our Peak Performance Program at our SoFi event! Hundreds of students from across Southern California arrived in style with their teams via charter bus, ran out of the Rams tunnel, participated in Athletic benchmark testing on the field with Zybek sports, and had several celebrity and athletic speakers, such as actor Noel G and former NFL player Spencer Tillman. It was a night to remember! Thank you, everyone, for your attendance and support in celebrating our amazing athletes!



Finding the right school for you: The story of Nawar B.

 National School Choice week is a time to get involved in your community and/or celebrate the opportunity we each have to choose the school we want for our children. Here at Elite, we are so proud to
For one Elite student of ours, Nawar B., the best option for him was finding a new solution altogether. He was not doing well in his previous school and needed to make a change. Since enrolling in the Virtual Academy at Elite, he has turned it around and is doing amazing! He will graduate this spring and is talking actively about pursuing IT and computer science after high school.
His History Teacher, School Counselor, and Elite Educator all wanted to express their praise for Nawar and how hard he has worked to be in good academic standing today. We asked Nawar some questions about his educational experience and why he made the choice to come to Elite.

Some Q's and A's with Elite Student, Nawar B.

Q: What made you choose Elite Academic Academy?

A: "The one thing that made me choose Elite Academic Academy is myself. I was just not feeling comfortable with my previous school and the way that  I was getting treated unfairly."

Q: What is your favorite school subject?

A: "My favorite subject just at school is Government & Economics."

Q: What are your goals upon graduation?

A: "My goal upon graduation getting the grades I deserve and get a job that I would like to work in."

Q: Who here at Elite has helped you the most since you became a student?

A: "The people that have helped me at Elite Academic Academy are Mrs. Rivero, Mrs. Lively, and all of my teachers that have supported me and believe in me that would be successful this school year. I can't thank them enough for the things that they have to do for me it just means so much for my family for things that they have to do for me."

Q: What has been your favorite part of being an Elite student?

A: "My favorite part of being an Elite student is I have an open schedule for my school work and I have a lot of time to do my school work and spend time with family."

About National School Choice Week

January 23–29 is National School Choice Week (NSCW). Founded in 2011, the goal is “to raise public awareness of all types of education options for children.” In the spirit of NSCW, we want you to know that you always have a choice, even midway through the school year. If you’re not enjoying where you currently attend, consider choosing Elite Academic Academy for grades TK-12.

At Elite, we believe students deserve a choice in their education. That’s why we’ve worked to provide a tuition-free, quality education. Since opening our doors to a handful of students not too long ago, Elite has grown to be the large school with robust programs to truly tailor to the needs of the individual student.

If you'd like to learn more about Elite and our many programs available, head here.


Jayden Cox: Student Highlight of the Month

Congratulations to Jayden Cox, an 11th Grade Flex Student who is our Student Highlight of the Month! This is Jayden's 2nd School Year with Elite, and he has shown a lot of growth since he first enrolled.

Jayden came to Elite and was simply focused on improving his grades and relationship with education. While he has made leaps and bounds in that area with the help of his Teacher, Mrs. Potrero, he has also found his niche within our Elite Clubs.

"I'm in a lot of extra curricular activities right now. I'm a part of the BeElite Podcast, Kindness Ambassadors, ArtSeen and CoreUs. I think these clubs are pretty cool and helpful because it helped me get through my shyness phase".

Jayden's current favorite subjects are Chemistry, Spanish and Construction. He chose to stay with Elite after completing our Summer Program in 2020 because he felt he got a lot more help and personalized instruction than he had previously. He would really like to get involved with the music production industry, which is why he enjoys the ArtSeen and CoreUs Clubs. He also really appreciates his Teacher, Mrs. Potrero, who helps him stay on track with his classes and encourages him to keep working hard.

"I think Mrs. Potrero is a cool teacher, she helps me through a lot of my classes, goes over everything...Elite changed a lot of my Academic Experience, I have teachers that actually grade my work and give me feedback, which helps a lot."

His Teacher in the Flex Academy, Mrs. Potrero, is deeply dedicated to her students and their success at Elite.

"We appreciate Jayden's involvement in the clubs and activities at Elite. He has become a student leader! I appreciate that Jayden includes people and encourages them to be part of the school community".

Congratulations Jayden on being Elite's Student Highlight of the month. We can't wait to see how you continue to impact other students through your creativity and kindness in our Elite Clubs!

Shelby Murray - Homeschool Academy Students Ranks First Nationally in Horsemanship

Shelby Murray is one of our Homeschool Academy Students that just finished up her 10th grade school year. Like many of our students, she works hard in all areas of her life. Shelby has taken it one step further and become an absolute rockstar in the sport of Three day Eventing. She was recently ranked Number 1 in eventing at the Junior/training division by the United States Eventing Association, USEA. We had to learn more about Shelby's rise up the ranks and what keeps her motivated to do her best in her sport.

Shelby's mom, Julie, has loved horses her whole life. It seems that the love of horses and discovery of the sport came from her! They got involved with the US Pony Club when Shelby was 9 years old, and have been a part of the organization ever since. Through the Pony Club, learning to ride a horse is just one aspect that you're taught. Kids learn everything there is to know about a horse, from its hooves to its ears. They also learn how to properly care for a horse on their own.

"Children learn all aspects about a horse including it's genetic defaults, nutrition, diseases, anatomy.... The Pony Club fully encompasses the whole gamete of owning a horse" Julie said. "It starts with basic stuff, but now Shelby is one level from being at the top of the Pony Club’s horse management pinnacle A rating.".

Every rating that Shelby has surpassed has been earned. In the upper levels national raters come and test both her riding ability and horsemanship knowledge.

Shelby started out at the Fallbrook Pony Club, where future Tokyo 2021 Olympian Liz Halliday-Sharp got her start as well. Shelby's family has since started their own Pony Club, San River Downs, which they saw was needed for Shelby in order to progress further in the sport. "She has her own motor and I'm just helping to guide her engine" mom said.

On top of being nationally ranked in her sport, Shelby is an awesome student and also works part time as a working student at Swift Ridge Eventing. She has a great head on her shoulders and is thinking about her future. Shelby has a goal of becoming a dental hygienist so she can make a living for herself and continue with Equestrian as her hobby. She's also working on her gold award for girl scouts and is a part of the national charity league with 500 volunteer hours logged over the last four years.

We asked Shelby's mom how she took the news about being ranked Number 1 in her Junior/training division.

"She's super humble and just happy that she gets to ride. Her main horse Sonik was injured a year ago, he had to have surgery and just came back for a show one month ago. So every ride that she gets to ride with her horses is a gift to her. Another horse she rides is Reverie. This horse is not easy, but Shelby rose to the occasion and they're doing fabulous. It's unusual for anyone to get 4 first places in a row in eventing. She could have done much more showing and earning points for the leaderboard, but she didn't want to possibly injure the horse. She said it's not worth it and she wants what's best for the horse".

Check out this video compilation created by Shelby of her past riding competitions with her Horse, Reverie GWF.  

That is where her horsemanship knowledge comes into play. On top of riding her horse, Shelby is there every day feeding, wrapping, exercising, grooming the horse, completely taking care of it as it is her responsibility. She knows what it's like to take care of a sick horse and understands what over-activity can do to them, so she refrained from showing too much. Being a part of the Pony Club and continuing her education in horsemanship has taught her a lot more than just being a passenger on a horse.  It’s a delicate dance between horse and rider, the ultimate partnership in a very challenging sport.

There are some Homeschool Programs that do not recognize Equestrian as a sport, which is why Shelby found a good fit with Elite.

She is able to get an unmatched education through Elite and Mr. Shirley and through the US Pony Club. The flexibility of Elite's program allows her to fit her riding and horse-training responsibilities in when she needs. It also allows her to teach younger kids in the Pony Club about riding and horsemanship.

"She'd love to help anybody who has any questions. She teaches horsemanship as part of the upper horsemanship rating responsibility and she also does it for the love of it" mom says.

Shelby is always looking for the next step, which is why she recently started looking into the different aspects of eventing. Eventing is described as the equestrian triathlon and is extremely rigorous. There are three phases: dressage, cross country, and show jumping. Shelby is looking into shadowing  cross country course designers/builders and learn more about that phase, which is the most dangerous. But her background in this sport has prepared her for taking this next step.

We have no doubt she will succeed in this event, just like she has in everything else. Shelby, thank you for choosing to Be Elite and representing our school so well!

If anyone is interested in joining the Elite Equestrian Team or would like to learn more from Shelby herself, please email our Community Coordinator, Kiley Allen [email protected]

Clubs, Classes and Connections: Jeannelle Reeves Takes Full Advantage of Being an Elite Student

Jeannelle Reeves, a Junior in Flex Academy, is changing the mindset and academic experience of our students through the Kindness Club and Be Elite Podcast. She also helps runs our Lunch Bunch, which is a recurring school wide virtual lunch activity where students have fun connecting with each other while eating lunch. In addition to being a positive influence on our school, Jeannelle is an exceptional student.

“What made you decide to come to Elite?”

I was attending another school and they had a lot of work, but the videos and notes were completely different from the test. I was so confused and I wanted to find a different school. I saw an ad for Elite and I was like “Hey maybe I’ll check it out”. I saw that I could join the  Flex Academy, so that I can have my work on Strongmind (online) but also have a teacher to meet with. My problem has always been with teachers not getting back to me. Also, I saw that it was tuition free and there was a possibility for enrichment funds that could pay for piano lessons!

“Tell me about your overall experience with Elite!” 

It has been awesome!

“If I need help, my teachers get back to me right away and I can tell that they care about me! I feel like the school’s mission is to make the students feel cared about and helping them understand everything.”

They actually do what they say they are going to do, it’s not all talk. My teacher of record, Mrs. Steele is awesome! She’s always there for me and she always cares about me, my mom, and my cat! I have a lot of fun at our weekly meetings. Mr. Smith, my Marketing Teacher is super awesome. He makes Marketing and the Podcast a lot of fun!

“You are such an involved student. Kindness Ambassadors, Lunch Bunch, Podcast, and joining a lot of school events! What brought you to get involved with school activities and what do you enjoy about it?” 

At first I wasn’t really involved in anything. I wanted to join the Podcast, but I wasn’t really sure about it. I thought “maybe next time”. But I got an email saying that I was picked to be a part of the kindness ambassadors and I didn’t really know what it was. I thought it might be cool to be part of it. After that, we did a kindness week episode on the podcast and I was like “hey this was fun” so then I joined the podcast club!

“After I started to see how fun it is, I like getting to be part of things that the school is doing! I like how we are starting to all get to know each other and now I am starting to know students at the school that I wouldn’t have known before.”

“What are your hobbies outside of school clubs?”

I really love music and I take piano lessons, I like creative things and doing crafts! I like to paint, bake, and I like to cross stitch and I like this thing called diamond dotz! I also really love legos (like the lego piano), and playing games like Animal Crossing and Mario!

How has your academic learning experience been like at Elite? 

Really good! I feel like all my teachers really care about me! Anytime I need help I know my teachers will always get back to me and help me with whatever I need. I feel like for the most part Strongmind is pretty easy to navigate and Canvas is nice too! My teacher of record, Mrs. Steele is super awesome and she always helps me if I need anything.

” I also like how I can do classes on google classroom because I have been able to do music, film, and photography. It’s nice to have flexibility in my classes!”

Jeannelle is always putting her best foot forward, and we are with her every step. We are excited for Jeannelle to continue to excel in her academics and in her commitment to bringing our students together through the Podcast and Kindness Club. 

Keep up the amazing job, Jeannelle; we are so proud of you!

Elite Blog Logo

Student News: 6th grade students Maddy and Melody Win National History Award

Elite Blog Logo

Well, folks. Our students have done it again! They've worked hard, accomplished something big, and we are so happy to see them getting recognition for it.

These homeschool 6th grade students managed to build an entire website and won a national award!

The incredible things our students do never ceases to amaze us.

Learn more about Maddy and Melody, and the website they built below.

Congrats to Maddy and Melody, Winners of the Junior Group Website National History Day Award

Maddy and Melody are homeschool students who have been friends since the first grade. Maddy is a quiet, shy, intelligent girl while Melody is social, outgoing and, of course, just as smart.

Although their personalities are quite contrasting, they do share one thing in common: their teacher of record, Mr. Eric Shirley, who encouraged them in their work.

And talk about productive, these two got together and decided for fun that they wanted to dive into a history project. They knew they wanted to do something big, but weren’t even sure what the topic would be.

Here’s how they came to the idea of a website around the FSA Great Depression photos:

“So what we did is so we we wrote (our ideas) all on the board, and we were going to choose which one. And I remembered that in second grade my art teacher showed a picture of the migrant mother photo from the Great Depression and then she started talking about how the FSA came to help and communicate that these farmers need help. I just remembered that because I was so interested in the topic that that topic, so that was the one we did,” said Melody.

That’s when they got to work creating the website that ultimately won them an award.

Click on the image below to see the student’s website:

"I think I learned a lot with the context of what we were writing in websites, but I think we also learned about web design, which I don't think we have done that, before, so it would just really big for," Maddy Carpiuc, Elite homeschool student

While creating the website, it was important to Melody to focus on how the FSA came to help and communicate about farmers and the thing that the episode tried to do was they didn’t want to miss communicate the topic.

“After the stock market went down, a lot of people started to lose their homes and their jobs, mostly the farmers, so they had a move, and they had to do a lot of labor. And then the FSA noticed the other day was created because they were noticing how hard and the lives of the farmers worse, so they told the photographers to go and take pictures of the farmers and spread the word and communicate with others,” said Melody. “And the reason why we chose through the lens of the camera is because all of this photography was taken through the lens is kind of what captured the photograph so we just thought that would be a good name, and something we could make a website on.”


Their website project was chosen as a finalist winner in the San Diego region, and they were awarded a special California history award as well. The project is now entered into the California state competition. It’s such a huge accomplishment for both of these students that we had to know how they felt when they found out.

“We hadn’t really expected it at all,” said Maddy. “We weren’t really doing it for the competition, so I think we were really surprised when we found out that we would move on to the state level.”

“It was actually a funny story for me,” said Melody. “So I was sleeping and it was really early in the morning and my mom came and she said melody wake up and I said, ‘no.’ And she said, ‘Guess what you guys won some awards!” And I was so I was so happy because I didn’t know we were going to get through.”

“Mr. Shirley called us after and said he was really proud of us. He said he had a personal experience reading our website, so I was also proud that what we accomplished made other people have feelings about objects,” said Maddy.

“Yeah, I mean, Mr. Shirley has like a lot of students and I didn’t know that he would actually be proud of us, and he actually read the website and he was proud of us. I mean, another human beings actually saw our website and was proud of us!

Maddy and Melody were in a school together in first grade, but lost contact after moving. So, it was exciting for them to find each other once again at Elite.

“I came to Elite mainly because of the pandemic,” said Maddy. Once I saw what school online would be like, I decided that I didn’t really want that, so I decided to try homeschooling since will be better to work on my own pace.”

” Just like Maddy said it was mainly about the pandemic and near the end of the year I was feeling that the school was a little too easy for me… I mean, in the summers, my mom to would give me a really big, fat book and I would have to study a lot. So, I went to fifth grade and felt bored because it felt like we were just doing really, really easy stuff. So, I like homeschool because I can work at my own pace. It’s quiet, it’s relaxing, I can work in my room and dive into the things I love.

One interesting thing to note is that history is not necessarily Maddy’s favorite subject. It’s actually her least favorite subject. Or was, before this project.

“I think before I project, that history might have been one of my least favorite subjects, but we decided to just try something new, so and I found out that I actually really enjoyed it. We might even do some more history day projects in the future.” said Maddy.

Maddy also learned a lot about web design in this process, something she’s come to really enjoy.

After graduating high school, Maddy and Melody aren’t sure what they want to do. They both are writers. Maddy is a strong writer with a passion for it and Melody is working on some novels, which she may want to continue in the future. Maddy said she may even want to pursue her passion in music instead, but neither really knows just yet.

But one thing is for sure: These two are going to be doing some great things.

Congratulations to Maddy and Melody on winning a National History Day award!

Evy Haynes

Rising to the Occasion - Evy Haynes, Class of 2021

Meet Evy, one of our Homeschool Academy's early graduates of the Class of 2021! To say Evy Haynes is a remarkable student would be an understatement. She is an exceptional student, not only in her academic abilities, but also in her work ethic and determination. Our Homeschool Staff was first introduced to Evy one year ago when she inquired about wanting to be a student at Elite. She was in the process of completing her junior year, and wanted to challenge herself more by being a dual enrolled student, both in high school and college. Her grade point average in high school was 4.94 and included a rigorous load of advanced placement courses in math and sciences. In addition to the classroom success, she successfully passed Advanced Placement exams in the subjects of Spanish, Physics 1, U.S. History, Chemistry, and earned perfect scores in Physics C Electricity and Magnetism, Physics C Mechanics, Psychology, and Calculus BC.

Evy has never backed down from a challenge. When she heard about Elite Academic Academy from two former students, she wanted to challenge herself even more by taking more college courses and graduating early. She accomplished her mission as she completed three college courses this fall semester in English, Political Science, and Economics. She received A’s in each of the courses! In a world today where students can easily have excuses, Evy refuses to let anything hold her back. She takes ownership of everything she does and has accomplished most of this on her own. She has had to overcome some family obstacles in her life, but she never let those derail her from her plan.

Evy Haynes

In addition to her academic endeavors, she has managed to work part time at Starbucks to support herself and save money for college. She plans to complete a dual major in physics and engineering and has applied to colleges such as Stanford, Rice University, Cal-Poly SLO, and University of California San Diego just to name a few. With her engineering mind always in gear, she continually plans for the future. When presented with a lime green TI graphing calculator this past year and asked “why lime green?” she replied, “I’m going to be taking classes in the future with a bunch of male students. I won’t even have to write my name on it to know it is mine.” She’s always thinking ahead. Congratulations Evy, you are another example of an outstanding Elite student and we are very excited to see what your future holds!

Graham Bennett - Homeschool Academy Graduate and Acting Extraordinaire

Some people were born with a niche for something. Sometimes it's sports, writing, or making people laugh. For Graham Bennet, one of our recent Homeschool Academy graduates, it's acting.
Graham has been an actor since he was 9 years old.  He started his career playing Tiny Tim in the American Conservatory Theater’s annual production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in San Francisco – 30 sold-out shows in a 1,000-seat theater.  In addition to more theater work, he has since starred in a number of short films that have been accepted to and won awards at numerous film festivals across the country.
As a student, Graham was never much of a reader, despite playing in numerous Shakespeare plays and loving stories of all kinds.  After spending middle school at a Waldorf school, his family moved to Southern California and enrolled him in a private college prep school with a Tony award-winning acting teacher.  While the drama program and choir were great, Graham struggled with his academics even though he put in a lot of time and effort. He then enrolled at Elite halfway through his sophomore year, just as he was finally diagnosed with a severe case of dyslexia.
At Elite, Graham got the individual attention, encouragement, and support he so desperately needed. His academics quickly took a turn for the better and he started to enjoy his schoolwork. His turnaround was so profound that with some community college classes and extra work over the summer, he actually graduated early, finishing high school on January 15th of this school year.
Graham is currently applying to and auditioning for acting conservatories on the East coast and in the UK.  He intends to spend the rest of this year seeking work in the film business.  He has already acted in another short film that is now in post-production, with voiceover work set to happen next month.  He will participate in the Palm Springs International Film Festival as a youth juror for the third year in a row.  He is also taking an essay from his last English class and turning it into a script for an animated short film.
As the whim strikes, he sometimes posts videos on TikTok, where his most watched video garnered over 2M views.
Thanks to Elite, Graham still has a desire to learn and a positive attitude.  Graham will not be going to college and taking the normal route, but that’s just fine – his journey promises to be all the more interesting.

Different in a Similar World - Essay by Selma Bariz

Hello everyone, My name’s Selma & this is my memoir:

To live a perfectly normal life is practically impossible. No one, absolutely nobody, can be normal. From the kid that lives with a scar on his arm, to the boy whose burns haven’t healed since childhood, to the one girl that had her appendix removed when she was twelve, and to the little boy that lives in a bubble, because even a minor cold could end his life. You’re no exception, and I’m no exception either.

For the sake of confidentiality, I will not mention my name. What I will mention is that I am an atypical 16 year old teen that lives in a world of words & thoughts. I love reading; my favorite author is John Green. I love music, specifically EDM-style genres-- Trap, House, Drum-n-Bass, Drumstep, et cetera. I go to school (well I used to, COVID-19 kinda ruined that) and I’ve always been that one student that always raises her hand to answer a question, open to everyone around her, bubbly, simply a chill, happy person that also writes poetry, a behind-the-lyrics meanings nerd, & averages a 3.7 GPA.

"To live a perfectly normal life is practically impossible"

Well, I mean, I’m sure there’s a ton of people in my generation with the same qualities & interests. Still, I am ultimately positive that there’s two facts about me that not many people my age would relate to. Well, maybe this first one is a lot more common.

I am legally blind, or in more “scientific” terms, visually impaired with a scale vision from about 15/200. For those of you who don’t understand how poor vision works, basically, even if I stood right in front of you, I still wouldn’t know what your eye color is (sorry). Also, it wasn’t until recently that I figured out that humans actually have these tiny holes on our skin called pores (7th grade biology really can teach you life-lasting information.) I can’t drive, which I agree is completely logical, since I have destroyed countless cities in every driving video game there is anyway.

My apologies for all my jokes, but seriously, I can’t see. People always say “you can see me though,” or “you can see where you’re walking.” First of all, I actually can’t “see” you. How do I put this? When I’m looking at you, I basically am looking at the CGI video game version of you. A plain face, with two eyes with dark pupils, lips, hair type & color, skin color, & body type--that’s it. If you’re wearing makeup, I will not notice. Even with people I’ve known and lived with my whole life, sometimes I can’t recognize them either. Imagine my embarrassment when during the fifth grade, I went and hugged my friend’s mom thinking it was my mom after school. Sorta awkward, but we all had a good laugh.

Speaking of school, even if you were to put me in the first row, I would not see the board. Ever since 3rd grade, the only way I can ever see ANYTHING on the board is by zooming into the board with a tablet’s camera. Still, even the best cameras can’t detect faint green & red markers. Or that one kid, whose hair just blocks the board entirely. And me, being the “I don’t want to disrupt the class” type, only being able to say “e-excuse me… your head… can you like, yknow, move it…?” In the end though, all of my teachers & fellow students have always been very accommodating & understanding.

Being legally blind does put you in “fun” situations, fun as in “awkward & completely humiliating” situations.

"Let’s talk about eye contact; I have no clue what that is"

Let’s talk about eye contact; I have no clue what that is. Everyone has probably been in that situation where the teacher asks for a volunteer & the whole class avoids making eye contact to not get picked. As for me, I stare at the teacher, not even knowing the crime I’ve unintentionally committed.

Or those times where someone I know waves at me from a distance, I am looking straight at them from a distance, but cannot really notice who they are, let alone see them waving. So it’s a bit awkward for them since they’ve waved,and I’m just staring right at them without ever waving back…
Moving on—

You have probably wondered: how did she become legally blind? Maybe a birth defect? Injury? Disease? Well, to answer that, I will have to tell you the second unique fact about me.

Let me explain this as smoothly and quickly as possible (without sounding painfully boring). Ok, here we go.

I was born with a rare genetic disease called HSAN type 8. Basically, HSAN stands for Hereditary Sensory Autonomic Neuropathy. In short, that means I have an insensitivity to pain. My arm could be casually laying somewhere near the stove, and I wouldn’t even notice until I’d see the burn. Or, while most kids would cry after falling off their bikes
& scraping their knee, I would not cry nor react until my mom notices some bruise or inflammation, which could either be minor or could lead to a tripto the hospital. I know some people would see this as a superpower, but I hate to break the news, it’s not. Worldwide, there have only been around 300 known cases of the condition itself ranging from type 1-8.

Now, how does my visual impairment have anything to do with me not feeling pain? Well, it is common for children with my disease to have corneal issues during infancy. The cornea is the transparent layer that covers your eye to protect it from bacteria, infections, etc. It is responsible for about 60-70% of the ability to focus your eyes.

Basically, as kids that don’t receive a brain signal of what pressure is enough when rubbing our eyes, we end up scratching our own corneas with our tiny little fingers. And, when your cornea is scratched, your vision gets really damaged and you become legally blind. Furthermore, because we’ve ruined the guards to our eyes, doctors sew our eyelids 70% shut to limit eye infections, dust, bacteria, etc. from entering our eyes. They close off the castle because the guards aren’t there to protect it.

Along with my visual impairment, I am toothless. And, no, it is not a Gaten Matarazzo situation where my teeth haven’t developed. On the contrary, they did, but due to having weak gums, they’ve all fallen out besides a few on my bottom mouth.

So, to the awesome, less painfully-boring part, how does all this affect me personally? Socially? And emotionally?

Well, I can say that it definitely isn’t something I’d ever wish on anyone, like ever. Still, I never felt different from others, I’ve always had a pretty good, stable self-esteem & have always been self-confident as well. Just like most teenagers, I have had self-esteem shifts, but my parents raised me in a way where I never felt different from others. I also really enjoy being unique & different, because aren’t we all?

Sure, at a young age, I did have a difficult time making friends. Even though I’d always make the effort to introduce myself & join in, the other kids would only ignore me. But who am I kidding? They were all just little kids that didn’t know any better. Interestingly, I’ve never been bullied harshly. Kids would either ignore me, be low key friendly, and there have been a few occurrences where I have endured verbal insults. I changed schools a lot, always trying to find a better environment than the previous one. It wasn’t until the 4th grade that when I made my first friend, that is, to this day, still my best friend. The school I attended in the fourth grade genuinely helped me get out of my shell, since in previous years I was usually always quiet & pretty depressed, mainly because no one would just treat me like a regular kid. I remember a girl ran away from me in
the 3rd grade when I told her I had a disease because she thought it was contagious, or that one girl that was telling a few other kids that my future kids will look as “ugly” as me. When I think about that now, it genuinely makes me laugh. 8-year-olds really don’t understand how genetics works, huh? ‘Cause I was born very pretty since both of my parents are actually quite good-looking. Well, besides that, brains & a good heart override beauty any day.

Going back to our main topic, fourth grade was when I experienced my first of many paradigm shifts. We had a small classroom capacity which was really nice;probably a total of 7-9 students in our class. I felt completely accepted by all the students, who very soon became my friends. Even the teachers were kind & caring individuals. I remember when I used to despise poetry, and I will never forget what my 4th & 5th grade teacher told me. She said,”I have a good feeling you’ll change your mind as you get older.” And here I stand now as an avid writer & poet that has written an epic consisting of 137 pages.

Anyways, I remained at that school up until the last year of Elementary school, followed by going to the same middle school as my classmates. I made many more friends that I still am in touch with to this day. I stayed for the 6th and 7th grade then left to attend a private school during 8th grade.

Now, let me get into a few details about middle school. The older I got, the more my vision bothered me socially. For example, I’d hear my friends giggling about something they were looking at but I couldn’t see. Even when I’d ask them what was so funny, they never really knew how to explain it & sometimes it could be something a bit awkward or embarrassing to really repeat. It’s a “you really had to be there” thing, where in my case, it was a “you really had to see that” moment.

Even so, I rarely ever felt left out & all the girls and boys respected me & I honestly could say I was pretty popular in my class of 23 students. My friends & classmates would often ask me for advice, confide in me with secrets, & showed that they really enjoyed my presence the same way I’ve always enjoyed theirs.

I had my own group of friends, we sat together every single day during break, always at the same round table on the right side in the same exact seating.

I’ve always been a solid straight A student. Still, my least favorite subject has always been Math, but I seem to enjoy Geometry (somehow.) In science, I’ve always enjoyed human biology & psychology, which I continue to study during my free time. But the subject that I not only excel at academically but I love so much is: English literature.

I love books-- Memoirs, Teen Fiction, Graphic Novels, Juvenile fiction, etc. are just a few genres I very much enjoy. Swallowing one book after the other became a habit for me.

You may be wondering, How could she read traditional books when the average font size of books is very small?  Well, to answer that, reading was always somewhat a struggle for me. For me to read anything, my face has to be very close to the page. The figurative saying “your nose is always in a book” is very literal for me.

There are lots of differences between how I’ve lived everyday life since I was a kid from others. For example, I couldn’t participate in many sports for two reasons: one, I  could never see the ball, & two, I’d get injured. I’m not the best at swimming & did 2 years of wheelchair basketball which I lowkey enjoyed. As a child, my mom rarely ever let me play with sand on the playground because it’d damage my eyes, since I don't have the knights guarding the castle entrance of my eyes. I burn myself because I can’t feel pain, either by accidentally drinking hot milk, or just trying to heat something on the stove. I can place my arm right at where a boiling pot could be & I’d have no reaction. I barely ever notice burns. I can’t feel any  temperatures of liquids when I touch them. So, before I shower, my mom needs to adjust the right water temperature. I feel if the water is warm or cold once it washes over me, but I don’t when testing it out with my hands. Due to all these aspects & being prone to injuries, I spend a lot of time at the hospital, which also contributed to why having full-time friends & hanging out has always been very limited.

"I come across as totally confident & so tough & doesn’t mind what fate has bestowed me with, but I do. I am human after all"

Moving on, I successfully completed middle school & found myself in high school quite fast. I did change schools after the 7th grade & graduated middle school at a private school where I experienced & learned a lot, in positive & negative ways, but mostly positives. I made 3 awesome friends and made amazing memories with them. But, all good things come to an end; high school eventually came & we all went our separate ways.

Going into high school opened up new advantages. I hope for the next couple years I will finally get my eyes reopened & have teeth surgically built into my mouth or have removable dentures. As long as I have teeth, I don’t mind either method. As for my eyes, sadly, there’s a high chance I’ll always forever be legally blind. I do not want to risk having a corneal transplant, it can either cure my vision or end in permanent blindness.

I know that through this personal essay, I come across as totally confident & so tough & doesn’t mind what fate has bestowed me with, but I do. I am human after all. There are a lot of things I feel people do take for granted; being able to see is a huge blessing. Being able to feel pain is an even grander blessing. Just walking around & not being treated differently in any way is a dream come true for me. I still am a typical teenager. I may not be seen as normal or average, but come on, who wants to be “normal” or “average”? I sure don’t. As quoted from Wonder, ”You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out,” and that’s very true. I can’t change the way I look, but others can change the way they see (that is also a quote derived from Wonder.) I know not everyone can make that change, but is up to me and everyone else that can relate to being treated differently to educate others. People will stare, they will, but I learned to smile right back. Smiling back is an indirect way to make the person second-guess their reason for staring, & realizing that it could’ve come off as rude, or to be honest, kinda creepy.

There’s two types of people in this world. One being the people who are very kind & understanding, but don’t know how to make a disabled person feel comfortable Then there’s the other type that no one wants to come across, the ableists, people that purposely make disabled individuals uncomfortable because they feel that we are inferior to them. I find these people  downright unacceptable. Still, I believe that seeing the best in people is the way to go. Take that stare as a curiosity. “They’re just curious is all, most likely they’re just interested with positive intentions”, I’d think to myself.

We’re all different people with infinite fractal experiences & no one’s life can compare to another. No one has the right to judge someone else for something they can’t control. Even if I ask the world to be kinder, the unkindness of this world will still remain. But I believe that instead of ridding the world from villainy & treachery, we should amplify the goodness of this world & create more opportunities for all the kindred spirits of kindness to take rule & weaken the wicked.

I’m blessed to rarely ever come across any negative people, but I know there are tons of awesome individuals that can’t say the same. Therefore, it is our obligation to spread kindness & purity throughout society.

"No one has the right to judge someone else for something they can’t control."

I have so many dreams that I need to make come true. I want to become a literary expert, study psychology, & help others. I want to fill the world with positivity & hearts with pure compassion, pursue my passion of words, & use every one of them to create a better environment. I may not be able to help the world, but saving someone from emotional discomfort is as brilliant as mending their physical heart, because I’d be tending to their emotional heart.

I may not be able to drive a car or do gymnastics. I may not have the greatest social skills because of my poor vision. I may not have the greatest freedom every teen dreams of when they become an adult. I may not be able to be the greatest teacher. I may not meet “social standards,” but that’s okay. That’s actually more than okay. I am happy with who I am & excited for my future. I may have to find different ways to do ordinary things, but I’m looking forward to the adventure! I have my ride or die family & friends that’ll be there for me every step of the way.

One final thing to remember is, "It doesn’t matter who you are, we’re all going to have differences & it is our duty to ourselves to embrace them” -me. Being different is a blessing.

"It doesn’t matter who you are, we’re all going to have differences & it is our duty to ourselves to embrace them"

I’d like to take the time to acknowledge all the amazing people that helped me revise this personal essay & supporting me the whole way. To my mom that has sat down & let me re-read it to her multiple times, suggesting ideas, & helping me remember events & just being very supportive. My dad, who always encourages to ask him if I ever do need anything & being supportive as well. My English teacher Ms. Zitney & former English mentor, Ms. Aisha,  for reading & giving very insightful feedback on ideas & correcting grammatical errors—they were very helpful! To my friends who re-read it multiple times, gave suggestions, edited simple grammar I missed, & the supported me the entire way through. I can’t thank all of these amazing people enough & it wouldn’t have ended up to be such a remarkable memoir without them.