Elizabeth Bartold has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and dyscalculia, a math deficiency.

Those are heavy labels for adults, let alone a high school senior.

But she likes talking about her learning disabilities. 

"It's something I'm almost proud of because I've overcome it," Elizabeth said Tuesday. "I can laugh about it. I know I'm not alone, and we help each other."

Elizabeth credits Alan Pocock's LEAD class at Cheyenne Mountain High School for her ability to rise above her disabilities.

"Before, I didn't understand why my brain did what it did," Elizabeth said. "Once I realized what was going on in my brain, I learned how to make it acceptable."

"And not be ostracized," added senior Rachel Weiner, who has been diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia and depression.

Pocock, or "Po" as he's known to children and adults alike, started LEAD (Learning and Educating About Disabilities) 18 years ago at Cheyenne Mountain High School.

Almost daily, teens sit on couches for a class period and chat about their inattentiveness, their emotions, the pros and cons of medication, the stress and anxiety they feel and other issues.

Under the tutelage of Pocock, students also are taught how their brains work when they have learning problems and how they can counter those neurological stumbling blocks.

The program has gained national recognition from several prominent organizations, schools and leaders in the field.

It's now on the verge of vaulting to the next level, with the help of students sharing their own stories.

"It's a life-changer," Rachel said of the program. "It not only exposed me to what my disabilities were but how they worked and how I don't learn the same as everybody else. It gave me confidence."

Eleven of this year's LEAD students will deliver a keynote presentation at the Council for Exceptional Children's national conference in April in St. Louis.

While some LEAD students have spoken at 16 different industry conferences over the years, this is the first time they've been invited to headline a general session.

"Last year, we were listed on the bottom of the brochure," Rachel said. "This year, people are flying in specifically to see us. It's awesome."

Up to 1,400 school administrators, teachers, education decision-makers and special education advocates will attend.

The students will give a sneak peek at what they'll be doing with a one-hour presentation starting at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24 in Cheyenne Mountain High School's Black Box Theater, 1200 Cresta Road. It's free and open to the public.

Titled, "Hey, Mom! I've got A.D.D. and a Couple of F's," the event features students talking about how they became empowered and confident enough to not only do well in school but also get accepted into college.

They hope it's inspiring.

"I felt a disconnect when I was growing up. I felt dumb," said Luke Kamppila, a senior who has dyslexia, dysgraphia, a writing disability, and depression. "I knew I was capable of doing things; I just didn't know how. We're not stupid; we just learn differently."

It's partly about not buying into the stereotypes associated with the diagnoses, students say, and also getting comfortable with themselves and relying on each other to push past difficulties.

Pocock's curriculum recently was published with the help of a grant obtained through the LEAD Foundation, a nonprofit organization his daughter, Jessie Pocock, heads. Pilot programs are in the works for the fall at Atlas Preparatory School, a charter school in Harrison School District 2 in Colorado Springs, and Westview Middle School in Longmont, she said.

St. Mary's High School also is considering incorporating some of the LEAD curriculum, she said.

The statistics speak for themselves, Jessie Pocock said.

"One in five kids with learning disabilities typically drop out of high school and are half as likely as their peers to attend a four-year college, and 100 percent of LEAD students who have gone through the class have graduated high school, and a majority have gone on to college," she said.

The longtime goal of replicating the program seems like it's in reach, Jessie Pocock said.

"The students' experiences strengthen them to advocate for themselves and adapt to find success," she said. "It's very powerful for not only students but also parents and educators, who all have the same goal: How can we get these students to have success in life?"

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