Writing Prompt #51: “52 Weeks of Gratitude Challenge” (Week 13)

Week #13: A Challenge You’ve Overcome.

Wow, where to start?

Some of you know that I was born at 25 weeks, so I had to fight for my life at the very start!

But, thinking about this post over the past week, one of the biggest challenges for me was deciding to leave my friends and school district to pursue something completely different.

When I was in eighth grade, a new magnet program had just started in one of Chesapeake’s high schools called International Baccalaureate (IB). It wasn’t new to the Hampton Roads area at the time, but it was fresh and brand-new for the City of Chesapeake and Chesapeake Public Schools.

Several of the freshmen came to my middle school to give us an overview of the program and how we could apply. After much consideration and discussion with my parents (and a good bit of prayer), I decided to apply.

I still remember how nervous I was. I even left my purse and house keys at Oscar Smith on the day of my interview and test! (Luckily, I got them back with nothing missing!)

After what seemed like waiting forever, the guidance counselor pulled me out of orchestra to tell me I had been accepted. At that moment, I felt pure joy. I was excited for something new!

However, once I started telling my friends, my joy and excitement started to erode. I was leaving them behind at Western Branch, according to them.

Going in, I knew this program was going to be challenging. I knew I was going to be taking college-level courses throughout my four years of high school. The summer assignments were enough to make me croak! I started questioning my decision, but I knew I needed to try it first.

I was the only student from the Western Branch district that first year; I was alone. Several people at church teased me incessantly – They said I was a “traitor” for leaving, especially since Oscar Smith’s football team consistently beat the snot out of Western Branch’s!

For the first six months of freshman year, I cried almost every day. I wanted to go back to Western Branch; I wanted to be with my friends again. My grades tanked! It was a struggle. Math sucked even more. Spanish was a nightmare! Even orchestra was harder!

Making friends at Oscar Smith was hard, but keeping friends at church and Western Branch was harder. I wanted to try out for the school softball team, but ended up not because I realized I couldn’t juggle IB, orchestra, and softball. It wasn’t possible.

Fortunately, once I adjusted (along with the other 49 kids in my class), it started to get better. After Christmas, my grades started to improve. My brain just needed time to adjust to the increased workload, managing the higher-level concepts, and being in a completely different environment. It got easier during sophomore year. It got harder in junior year, when we transitioned to full IB, with our assessments, Extended Essay, and preparing for our exams. We were all nervous wrecks for half of senior year as we prepared and took our exams, but we were done by the end of May. We were able to relax and enjoy the last few weeks before graduation.

The teachers were amazing, in my opinion. They were experts in their fields, but they were also willing to bend over backwards to help anyone with anything. The IB coordinators, Mrs. Ingersoll, and later Mrs. Lancaster (who’s still the coordinator today), were counselors, shoulders to cry on, and a support system. I think of Mrs. Lancaster (Biology, now the IB Coordinator), Mrs. Cofield (European and U.S. History), Mr. Degnan (English – Now one of the high school’s assistant principals), Mrs. Zwemer (Geometry, Math Studies – May she rest in peace), and Mr. Allen (20th Century History) often, to name a few.

This year marks 10 years since high school graduation. Although I clearly remember the struggles, the griping, the crying, the frustration (I still don’t fully understand the Federalist Papers, hardly anything with Algebra II, or why the Visual Arts teacher was so harsh with certain levels of interpretation), I also remember that I accomplished something – I earned my IB Diploma. I earned college credit. I went into Longwood with a much better understanding of most freshman college courses (with the exception of math – I still got a C in Honors Statistics!).

Because of IB, I was able to go on a 17-day trip to Europe (England, France, and Spain) in the summer of 2005. What an experience! Because of that trip. I decided to take a class at Longwood that took me back to France for a week in 2008, being able to further appreciate the museums of Paris and everything that the City of Lights offers.

I learned so much in four years. All because I took a chance on a new program, and I decided to stick with it, even when I thought I was going to fail everything.

Now, I’m proud to say that a current IB freshman is from my church. Many students from Western Branch have gone through the IB program in the last 10 years – Liz, Jeremy, Alyssa, Steven, Lindsey, and more.

IB was a great challenge for me, but one of the most rewarding in my entire life. I hope it’s still around when my future children are ready to go to high school!

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

17 thoughts on “Writing Prompt #51: “52 Weeks of Gratitude Challenge” (Week 13)

  1. Loved getting to know more about you!! You are strong, girl!! And brave

    • Thank you so much! I’m a fairly open book, and I think writing has made me a bit more bold. I try not to overshare, though! Thanks for your comment – You made me smile!

      • I love to get to know you, so share away! Only what you’re comfortable with, of course. But being born at 25 weeks! Girl you were a warrior from birth!! You really wanted to be here, you must have some great mission to accomplish!

      • Thanks! Exactly – Being comfortable is key! I like to say that I was impatient from the start – I didn’t want to wait until November! I’m fortunate that I received excellent medical care in New York, and my parents learned everything they could about preemies. They put me in every therapy possible, and early intervention was key in helping me avoid as many delays as possible. A lot of people I’ve talked to are just stunned that I was born that early – My outward appearance doesn’t show it. I worked really hard for several years to improve my speech and motor skills – I was in physical therapy for a while, occupational therapy until age 8-9, and in speech until age 10. I was also technically held back for a year in elementary school – There was a special program for kids who needed some extra help called Developmental First. But, that was one of the best decisions that my parents made. I needed that extra year. I don’t think I would have gone to IB if they hadn’t done that. I’m incerdibly grateful for them.

      • Your parents seem to be intelligent and amazing people!!

      • They are fantastic. I have a picture of them on an older post, when they celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary at the end of January.

        I often wonder what would have happened if I wasn’t an only child. But, with the trouble my mom went through for six long years, it made sense to not risk it. She was also 35, almost 36 when I was born, too. The story goes that she wanted her tubes tied right after I was born, but the doctor advised her to wait a year (She was obviously emotional with my birth and such). After that year, she came back and asked, and the doctor basically laughed and asked if she were willing to be on bed rest for the whole nine months. That sealed it for her. Of course, explaining all that to your child begging for a brother and sister was hard! I eventually accepted it after a few years. Now, I have lots of “family” from my church, sorority sisters, PEO sisters, and a few “brothers.” Works for me!

      • Yes, family doesn’t have to be blood!

      • Exactly! This fall, I’m gaining a sister and a niece. I’ve never been an aunt, either – I have two cousins, and I was the first to get married!

      • How long have you been married?

      • We celebrate two years in November!

      • Wow that’s amazing! Congrats!!

      • Thank you so much! We’ve been together since September 2010. We got engaged on Christmas Day in 2014. We got married on November 14, 2015. It’s amazing. He’s a wonderful man, and I’m incredibly lucky that we found each other.

      • I’m so happy to hear that. Not that many women are so lucky. I cannot complain about Rui at all. He’s a huge heart and I know he loves because he takes care of me and always make sure I’m happy, above all

      • Exactly! I’m so happy for you, too!

  2. That is such a big decision to make, especially at that age. I’m very happy that it all worked out for you, even with the struggles 🙂

  3. I applaud your perseverence and stepping out of your comfort zone. That’s when true growth happens.

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