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Blog:  The Inside Track

From Special Education to College: How I Adjusted to Big Lecture Classes

The Inside Track blog post by Savannah Treviño Casias
Aug 23, 2016

A college lecture hall

For most of my childhood, I attended small public charter schools. The high school I attended—a small all-girls charter school—was perfect for me. Classes ranged from 15 to 20 girls.

I had an IEP and special education services for my math learning issue, dyscalculia. My teachers worked with me one-on-one. And for math tests, I had accommodations: double time, a separate testing room and the use of a help sheet.

I was extremely close with my classmates, teachers and the staff at my high school. I was never afraid to speak up and ask questions. Everyone offered me so much support, and not just with schoolwork. My sophomore year, my mom passed away, and I remember how people from my school came to the memorial service and were there for me.

Last fall, I was a little apprehensive about going from my small safety bubble of a high school to Arizona State University (ASU). ASU is one of the largest universities in the country. It has over 50,000 students!

There are no IEPs in college, but there are accommodations. Before my freshman year of college started, my high school special education teacher and I went to ASU to make sure I was registered with ASU’s disability services office. Through the office, I got college accommodations very similar to the ones I had in high school—double time on tests, a separate testing room and a help sheet.

My first day of college brought many emotions, fears and excitement. It took me awhile to adjust to the new campus and make new friends. One of the biggest changes was the size of lecture classes. My College Algebra class had over 100 students.

In high school I was so used to knowing and talking to everyone in my classes. But in college, not knowing anyone made me nervous about asking fellow students for help. It was difficult to explain to them I had dyscalculia, or even what dyscalculia was.

Fortunately, I was able to adjust to the big lectures in pretty much all my classes...except one: College Algebra.

I had help in the class. ASU gave me a smartpen and a note-taker. I also had access to tutors from the disability services office.

But the lectures felt scattered and went by too fast. The professor skipped over the more basic material I had always struggled with. I think he assumed that if you’re in a college math class you should be able to keep up and know all the concepts from earlier math classes.

With my dyscalculia, I need a lot of one-on-one work with the instructors and a lot of tutoring. I also need to be retaught some concepts over and over. Though I tried my best to keep up, I was soon behind and getting overwhelmed by anxiety.

In my second semester, I decided to withdraw from the algebra class. This was a very difficult decision for me—I’d worked so hard to get there! I felt defeated.

But I wasn’t going to give up. I knew my chosen major in psychology had several math requirements. To graduate, I would have to tackle statistics, algebra and trigonometry. I decided to take the algebra and trigonometry over the summer. I was nervous about this because summer classes are accelerated, but I had a plan.

Instead of signing up for summer math classes at ASU, I decided to go with a local community college. Taking my summer classes at community college meant that the classes were going to be a lot smaller. I would be able to communicate with my professor often and explain my dyscalculia and how I learn best.

The two classes took up most of my summer—five days a week and every weekend for two months straight. I made sure I had tutoring and support in the class.

The result was great. I got a B in algebra and an A in trigonometry. I transferred these grades to ASU. Although the grades won’t count toward my GPA at ASU, the fact that I passed these summer math classes with such excellent grades meant a lot to me. It gave me more confidence in myself. I still have to take statistics at ASU. But I’m not worried, because I’m more comfortable with statistics than with other types of math.

This first year of college has taught me there are certain subjects—like math—where I need a smaller class size. But there are other subjects where I’m perfectly fine with a big, huge lecture hall. Figuring out that something as simple as class size can make such a difference was a big insight about myself.

Going from special education in high school to college isn’t easy. But it’s doable. If you’re a student, you always need to be learning more about what works for you.

If you’re a parent, don’t limit your child because you think a certain subject might be a struggle. These days, there are so many different options to achieve a college degree, including getting credits at a community college like I did. No one should have to give up on their dreams and goals because of a learning or attention issue.

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About the Blogger

Portrait of Savannah Treviño-Casias

Savannah Treviño-Casias is a student at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, where she studies psychology.

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