While starting off with a classic “Once upon a time…” is tempting, let’s go with another classic: Hello, my name is Melani, or as my students know me, Ms. Candia. I am a UCF alumna (go knights!) and have my B.S. in Exceptional Student Education. I teach in a first-grade inclusion classroom in Orlando, FL. This means that I teach both typically developing children alongside children who are differently-abled. Although the textbook definition of inclusive education is cut and dry, facilitating authentic, inclusive learning experiences has cemented indescribable gratitude for my chosen career. Education is ever-evolving, which is why I am pursuing my M.eD in Exceptional Student Education with a certification in bridging the gap between language and literacy at the University of Central Florida. Here’s where the almost happily ever after gets complicated: I have 21 credits left and unfortunately, due to a poorly thought out legal loophole, I am charged out-of-state tuition: close to 4,000 dollars per class.
I have exhausted other options like scholarships (which are rare or nonexistent) and financial aid (most of which I don’t qualify for). What matters to me is becoming more proficient in my field to make a significant impact on my students and my community. What matters to me is collaborating with not only other teachers, but speech, occupational, physical, and behavioral therapists within my school to create the well-rounded learning experience that all students deserve, especially those with different abilities. One day, I hope to go back to UCF as a professor and teach future educators how to be the best in their field. My long-term goals include establishing community outreach programs that will help families have access to necessary resources for their children as well as educate them on their rights within the school and legal system. For now, my goal is to return to school full-time by Fall 2022. I would gladly start Summer 2022 if I was able to! Pictured above is my very first class as an intern when I graduated. I would love the opportunity to recreate another picture like that with my M.eD.
In addition to being a proud teacher in America, I am also a DACA recipient. For those who may not know, this means I have a temporary renewable work permit that enables me to have some of the many benefits of being an American citizen, like working my job, driving, and renting a home. However, in Florida (and many other states), this does not extend to paying in-state tuition rates at the grad school level despite living in Florida for over 20 years. Unfortunately, at the grad school level, I have not been able to find any financial aid that applies to me, a graduate DACA student.
So every story needs a bad guy, right? This particular one doesn’t necessarily have one. Just an unfortunate mistake of a set of individuals based on a system that doesn’t benefit everyone equally. I thought I found a way to pursue my Master’s when I applied for Project SPEECH at UCF, which emphasized the importance of cross-collaboration between language and speech therapy and teaching students with exceptionalities. I double-checked with the program to make sure I qualified for the grant that paid for the Master's I would receive, and one of the program directors assured me I would be eligible. It wasn't until I was near finals at the end of my first semester that the program rescinded my funding due to "new guidance".
Pause for dramatic effect because there was no new guidance. There was the simple fact that they had overlooked guidance that was always there that said I wouldn't in fact be eligible. They completely misinformed me. This was also after they had me sign a legally binding document that stated the funding I would receive. And you know, blame it on quarantine trauma, blame it on the school year starting, blame it directly on me, I should have fought harder for the funding that was promised me based on a mistake from someone in a position of authority. This affected me financially, mentally, and emotionally. I was suddenly over ten thousand dollars in debt based on someone’s carelessness. Although I did fight this for months, it was due to an unrelated graciousness of UCF that I was able to breathe again. Due to the pandemic, UCF cleared many students’ debts and just like that, my balance was once again at zero. No more debt, but no new funds. There is more to this particular story, but the basis is this: once again, higher education is another battle.
I will always be thankful for everything I learned in my programs at UCF; the knowledge is invaluable. It is the reason I am a dedicated and frankly good teacher. Which leads to this: Advocating for my education through a different kind of platform. I am so thankful for my school and my community and to anyone that can help me in this journey to higher education. In the words of the place that instilled this particular drive to move forward, charge on.