My first day at Mardan, I remember literally crying on my way there, wanting to go anywhere else.

Mardan School is a small non-profit, state-certified school for children Kindergarten through 12th grade struggling with mild to moderate social-emotional, learning, and/or behavioral challenges. At Mardan School, our structured and supported environment allows children who have had difficulties in other school settings learn the tools and strategies that will help them experience success. What constitutes success for each of our students is as unique and varied as the needs of our students. We recently heard from one of our past graduates, and would like to present his particular journey and what Mardan meant for this young man, in his own words:

“My first day at Mardan, I remember literally crying on my way there, wanting to go anywhere else.

This wasn’t the school’s fault. Everyone was kind to me. But due to bullying in public school, and possibly chemical imbalances in my brain, I had so much social anxiety at the time that the idea of interacting with people on a daily basis sounded like a nightmare.

After some coaxing from my impossibly patient and caring parents, I gave Mardan a real chance. Change wasn’t immediate, but being able to have personal time with teachers (that can only be provided by such a small teacher-to-student ratio) and the way we were encouraged to talk about and deal with our feelings openly, slowly started to make me realize that even if I faced issues, there was nothing wrong with me, as a person.

For the first time since my ordeal at my public middle school, I felt like I wasn’t so different; like I wasn’t alone.

As someone who had been diagnosed over the years with varying combinations of depression, bi-polar, ADHD, OCD and Aspergers (among others) by various psychologists and psychiatrists, that feeling of belonging and confidence that Mardan helped me cultivate was invaluable for me. I began to feel I could still succeed at anything I wanted to do. Also valuable was the empathy I learned to feel for others.

Fast forward nearly 15 years, and that idea that made me cry back on my first day — talking to people — is one of the biggest parts of my job now. Growing up, this die-hard basketball fan could never have dreamed he’d get paid to watch Lakers games, and that shy kid never could have imagined he’d be able to make that possible by having conversations with people on a daily basis.

Do I still deal with social anxiety? Every day! I am constantly worried about asking a dumb question, for example, despite knowing there is no such thing. But Mardan taught me how to cope with that anxiety, to remind myself that I belong, and to have confidence that my voice matters. More importantly, the example set by Mardan’s teachers taught me to be a compassionate leader, someone who — in my personal opinion — has been able to get people to follow their direction by always trying to make it clear I have their best interests at heart.

So yeah, I may not have warmed up to Mardan immediately, but I never could have gotten where I am without it. Every kid who needs it deserves such a place.”

After graduating from Mardan, this young man began classes at Irvine Valley College, and eventually transferred to Cal State Fullerton, where he recently graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Communications. While taking classes, he pursued a writing career, eventually both covering the Lakers as well as joining the student paper (The Daily Titan), where he worked his way up to managing editor. He now has a full-time job at Vox Media, where he is the Senior Producer/Editor-in-Chief of Silver Screen and Roll, their Lakers coverage website.

This young man’s journey is unique to him but over the years we have heard from many past students who feel that Mardan played an important role in who they are now and what they have been able to accomplish. For over five decades, Mardan has provided this unique program and environment that strives to allow children to find their best selves. Success can be defined in so many ways. For some, it can mean attending college, finding meaningful employment and successful careers. For others, success may mean developing relationships, getting through the rigors of a school day, and learning how to cope with emotional ups and downs. For many students at Mardan, just setting goals and making steps towards achieving them are accomplishments worth celebrating.