OHS '17 grad, Jacob Booth, shares his story of struggles and successes with special education help in school.
What started as a joke to “take their show on the road” is turning into inspiration for others. OHS ’17 grad Jacob Booth is sharing his story of struggle and success in school.

“Four years ago, Jacob entered our high school. We had no idea we were going to be here today,” says Nancy Zyzelewski, Otsego High School special education teacher. She’s talking about Jacob Booth, a 2017 graduate. Mrs. Z, as he told an audience of Kalamazoo Public School and Battle Creek Public School leaders, was one of his life savers in his school career that wasn’t an easy one. He was the keynote speaker for the T… leaders in Kalamazoo. “I am so grateful and proud of Jacob,” Mrs. Z said before bringing Jacob up to speak.

“I just graduated on June 2nd and I never thought that would happen,” Jacob told the group as he started to tell his story which involves the special education support he received that eventually led to great success.

“My special education journey started in kindergarten,” he says.  He was the class clown and that was comfortable for him. He could make kids laugh and avoid doing work. But as he moved up grades, he began to realize that school was getting harder. He would do anything to avoid reading, especially out loud. He and his friends made pacts not to choose each other to read. In 5th grade, he read at a 2nd grade level.

Moving into middle school started his greatest struggles. “I couldn’t keep up with anyone,” he says of his lessons, classes, teachers, and his friends’ abilities. It was in middle school that he was formally diagnosed with a reading and tracking problem. That gave him an answer to why he couldn’t read and why his grades were low, but, “I didn’t have an answer to ‘why me?’. I would ask my mom, ‘why am I stupid?’ I hated school I didn't want to go anymore.”

When he would get papers handed back to him in class he would flip over quickly and wait until later to look, feeling like the papers would scream “You’re not good enough.”

But then, Mrs. Eldred helped him out. She would read his books and tests to him and help him in any way, “She made me realize that being different was okay and I had a place there.”

Eventually, he left middle school, “and I had to re-enter this dark place,” he says. He became comfortable with his friends in his class, some understood his struggles, but in high school, he would have kids from other grades in his class and he was terrified. “I was hoping there was another Mrs. Eldred.”

He met Mrs. Z. “She told me that everything was going to be ok.” But, she caught him at a low point, “I didn’t want to be classified as Special Ed,” he says. It wasn’t until he was in a team-taught class where she helped out that he saw how she worked with other kids and how other kids responded to her, “She helps everyone,” he says. And that started his journey through special education support services in high school. He went from a GPA of about 2.5 his freshman year to graduating with a 3.6.

“Mrs. Z made me feel confident. She told me that if I give 110% all the time than that's the best of my ability.” By his senior year, he asked if he could do a career exploration hour in her class, “I wanted to help students like she did,” he said.

He wrapped up his story by telling the audience of educational leaders that they are all life savers and handed out Life Savers candies. He received a standing ovation and lots of praise from the audience on his willingness to share his story. It’s a “show” that he and Mrs. Z will likely keep sharing.