Peoria resident Blake Wise overcame the hardships plotted him when he graduated from high school in May. Now he anticipates going a step further, and attending Grand Canyon University.
Wise was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, or Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder, as a child. He ended up finding his way to Gateway Academy — a Phoenix private school that specializes in education for students with Asperger.
Recently the diagnosis has changed from “Asperger syndrome” to a “Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder,” but this has caused a lot of backlash from Gateway students, including Wise, which led the school to make some branding changes, according to Robin Sweet, founder and CEO of Gateway Academy.
“We use ‘Twice Exceptional’ in all of our information now because we had a mutiny with our students because they were very proud of having Asperger’s, but they are not happy owning a ‘Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder’ because it sounds like they’re sick,” said Sweet, who has been at Gateway since the beginning of the school.
Wise has attended Gateway since he was in sixth grade. The difference from public school to Gateway, he said, was extraordinarily notable.
“You start off in a public school, and it’s just awful — teachers don’t care about you, the students there are just awful, and then you come to (Gateway) and it’s so different,” Wise said. “You’re welcomed with open arms, and you’ve got friends that will last you a lifetime.
“In public school I struggled to learn because the teachers would never help me, but here if you’re struggling to learn, you ask a teacher, and they’re there to help you.”
Now that Wise has graduated, he attributes his success from his education at Gateway.
“I took control of my life (at Gateway),” Wise said. “I was able to get a job. I have a car; I got my driver’s license. All that was really helpful from the teachers here because I had no confidence, but here I was able to get myself on the right path through the help that they gave me.”
Aside from academics, college is a time for young people to find themselves outside of the classroom and become the adults of tomorrow. Wise said he is ready to do just that in his college experience and explore the many “new opportunities” coming his way.
“Now that I am going to college, I won’t be there every day of the week,” Wise said. “I’ll have opportunities coming up to do more things in my life now — like with my job. I have the opportunity to go do things with my friends more often.”
Sweet has seen Wise since his start at Gateway, and she could not be more proud of his growth over the years.
“Blake started here in sixth grade, and he was very withdrawn — not a happy little guy. It took him a long time to trust the environment, to trust the faculty and to trust his fears, because unfortunately he had some brutal experiences not just in school, but in life in general.”
Sweet continued, “He evolved to being definitely the class clown, if you can imagine that. If anybody is going to tweak anybody, it’s going to be Blake. That emerged as he felt heard, and he felt safe and he felt supported. When that happens, we all are the best that we can be.”
Wise plans to study creative writing at GCC this fall; however, his goals for the future aren’t necessarily to become the next best-selling author.
“My main goal for my future is to be successful — not like super successful — but to be happy,” Wise said. “I don’t care if I become a writer and my books explodes or if they’re just there. The most important thing for me is to be happy.”
Wise was a member of the after-school band program, which was a setting for students to come together and play music with each other. The seniors who are part of the band program are also granted permission to perform two songs at their graduation ceremony, and according to Sweet, this year’s performance was especially moving.
“When the kids get up there, they’re loud, they’re proud, their vocals are just incredible, the instrumentation is just out of this world, and you go, ‘Oh my God. I’m not sure this is typical for anybody,’” Sweet said. “It’s very moving. There’s not a dry eye in the house. You have kids who don’t speak up for themselves, and for them to be out there on a big stage belting out these songs, there’s no words.”