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Graduation from high school is a major accomplishment in the journey we each experience through life. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the overall graduation rate for students with disabilities has increased to 70.6% for the 2019-2020 school year (the last year on record). The increase is good news, but the road to graduation for students with disabilities may look a little different.

Arianna Bre Jones graduated from Heide Trask Senior High School in Rocky Point, NC in June 2023 at the age of 22. When the time came, she elected to stay in her programming for an additional two years.

“I didn’t see a reason to take her out,” explains Bre’s mom, Anechia Wiggins. “She is a social butterfly so those extra two years would give her the social experience she needed and keep her in a structured environment.”

Both the social experience and the daily routines have their benefits. During Bre’s additional two years in her program, she certainly enjoyed her friends and social gatherings. Throughout high school Bre was part of the cheerleading squad, participated in Special Olympics, and attended Prom each year. During the extended program, she continued to participate in these social events and gained more experience.

Anechia’s advice for parents is to “not keep your child secluded. Connect with others, be open to talking about your experience because it will help you gather knowledge.”

Throughout Bre’s educational journey, from K-12, it was connections that helped her flourish. Teachers, other parents of students with disabilities, and members in the Down syndrome community all helped educate and uplift Bre for her to be her best self.

When asked what advice Anechia has for parents, she said, “Communication and educating yourself about the diagnosis is key. To become involved with the various organizations, be a part of the Down syndrome community and the disability community as a whole. Many individuals with Down syndrome have a dual diagnosis. Be receptive and allow others in your world. Don’t be afraid of letting people inside your soul. It takes a village and you don’t have to do it alone.”

For the future, Bre is concentrating on her volunteer work at a local care center that works with young children and she is also an active participant with Coastal Buds, a nonprofit organization that brings awareness in the community both local and abroad. She will forever have gratitude for those in her village that played a part in her upbringing as she continues using her social skills to form connections and positively give back to the community that has supported her along the way.