From special education to honors student, OHS senior succeeds

By Jared Huizenga
Sun Contributing Editor

When the fall semester begins at the University of Iowa, soon-to-be Orono High School graduate Maddie Kaiser will be among the freshman attending classes.

A few years ago if you’d told someone that, they may not have believed you.

Maddie came to Orono Schools at the start of her seventh-grade year. Prior to that, she was educated at a holistic school that heavily promoted teaching the whole person and had a strong emphasis on social studies and the social sciences.

"I could’ve told you anything about social studies, but I didn’t know anything about math or science," she said. "So coming to public school was definitely a shock. I was truly behind academically."

Maddie took the district’s special education assessment test and her scores came back saying she should be in the special education program. In addition, she was diagnosed with dyslexia.

"I took it as a blow," she said of the test results.

During that first year of public school, Maddie’s grades "sucked," but got better the following year. After that things began looking up.

"In high school I was out of the gates," she said.

A catalyst for that change was when she expressed an interest in taking German classes. Despite the fact that she’d spent eight summers at German camp, she wasn’t allowed to take the class, even though she was confident that she would have passed.

"I got sick of people saying ‘no’ to me," she said. "I just decided I was going to do it and put the effort into being the best I can be."

Soon after Maddie tested out of the special education program.

Four years later, she’s captain of the speech team, plays on the lacrosse team and will graduate with honors. In the fall she will make the move to Iowa City.

"I think if you would’ve asked anyone at my old school, they would’ve never expected me to graduate with honors and go on to college," she said.

And Iowa wasn’t the only school that accepted Maddie. Of the nine schools she applied to, she was accepted at eight of them. Her final decision came down to Iowa and the University of Vermont.

While not entirely sure what she’ll study once she gets to college, she said she has a passion for political science and environmental science. If things go according to her current plan, a career in Washington, D.C. could be in the works.

"I’m hoping to some day work in the state department," she said. "That would be like reaching the top of the mountain."

Maddie offered advice for other students that might be having the same or similar struggles to the ones she faced.

"You may look at what you have now and it might be bleak," she said. "But you have it in you to look inside and overcome your disabilities to do whatever you want."