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Won by Arroyo Grande student James Neal
The Yes I Can! Awards were established by the national Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), to honor children and youth with disabilities who have excelled. Thousands of children and youth have been recognized since the program’s inception in 1982. Each year, CEC selects approximately 27 winners for their outstanding achievements in one of nine categories: Academics, Arts, Athletics, Community Service, Employment, Extracurricular Activities, Independent Living Skills, Self-Advocacy, and Technology.

“I was really excited to win that award,” James commented. “I still have it: the trophy’s right in the living room. I’m really proud of myself. It took hard work and courage to get that.”

This year, 19-year-old James Neal received this prestigious award for academic progress, after his Arroyo Grande High School teacher, Brittney Keller, nominated him. James had made great strides academically. Though he has autism and an emotional disturbance, he blossomed in the inclusive education program at Arroyo Grande High School, and maintained a “B” average. James passed the California High School Exit Exam, and completed the 20 hours of community service required to graduate.

James and his family were flown to Nashville, Tennessee to receive the award. “I was really excited when I got there. There was a little buffet the day after, and I had two dishes; they were really delicious. It was awesome food. My family was all there.”

James received his High School diploma on June 10th, 2010. Now he works at Achievement House on the Pismo Crew, cleaning up around Pismo Beach. “It’s a never-ending battle,” he said, still proud, “there’s always something to clean up.”