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Graduating senior eager to make a difference Derek Varon found SWBOCES and in turn found his voice as a passionate advocate and accomplished student.

Advocacy Day 2021

Derek Varon's mother fought for years to find the right school setting for him. For years he bounced from school to school in his home district, too often in classes that were inappropriate to his particular needs

Derek needed more time, greater attention and the patience to allow him to collect his energies and focus on his work.

“I really fought hard for him. I put him in program after program, and they’d assure me this next program is going to be better but it only got worse,” Christine Varon said. “And then, suddenly, we found out about the BOCES program.”

Southern Westchester BOCES’s Center for Special Services programs proved to be their salvation. Derek was already in fifth grade by then. This spring he’ll graduate from the Irvington High School program with plans for college, graduate school and career ambitions.

“They’ve helped me improve. I’ve been able to focus. I’ve been able to concentrate. Since freshman year my grades have improved greatly. I made honor roll this year,” Derek said.

Derek is a longtime member of his local police department’s Young Explorers Program. He is interested in studying political science and has a passion for and a commitment to issues of social justice. He would like to help others and make a difference in his community.

While he hasn’t made up his mind, Derek received a scholarship offer from Manhattan College. He talks about becoming a congressman one day. His future is full of possibilities. For his mother, that’s gratifying considering the challenges he has overcome.

“I’m so proud of him. I have to say the teachers at BOCES are absolutely incredible. The whole team, from the principal to the therapist to the gym teacher to the art teacher, have been phenomenal. They all showed interest in him,” she said.

Outside of his classes, Derek loves swimming and cycling and is a member of the school’s environmental club and the local police Explorers program. He is also a longtime altar server at his church.

Teacher Terence Burke told Mrs. Varon how, following a school assembly focusing on understanding and dealing with anxiety, Derek shared how the strategies that were discussed had worked for him. He held the audience captive with a heartfelt and insightful message encouraging his peers to follow those strategies, according to Mr. Burke.

“It was an honest and forth-right call to be brave if you need help,” Mr. Burke wrote, noting Derek suggested exercise or music for relieving stress as well as talking to a counselor. “Derek shared how he opened up to a school counselor and the result was extremely beneficial.”

The impromptu speech drew spontaneous applause. Mr. Burke said he had never felt more proud.

Derek’s teachers let him figure out what he needed to do to succeed and had the patience he needed to do so, she says.

“It was the right setting. The teachers knew what they were doing,” Mrs. Varon said.

Now she touts BOCES to doctors, social workers, and other parents—anyone who’ll listen— because she wishes she knew sooner that BOCES was an option. So many parents are still struggling to find for their children what Derek found at SWBOCES.

“It’s not hard,” she said. “It’s just educated professionals. That’s what we’re dealing with at BOCES, and they care.”

Created By
Brian Howard
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