La-Niyah Ortiz wasn't the only one who was nervous on her first day at Bay Shore High School.
Ortiz is legally blind and spent most of her education in specialized settings that were well-equipped to accommodate her. Ortiz, 18, is a twin who was born prematurely. She was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity, abnormal blood vessel development in the retina of the eye. It occurs in infants who are born too early and is a degenerative condition. She also has nystagmus, rapid involuntary movement of the eyes.
As she entered her senior year, educators agreed to send Ortiz, of Bay Shore, to public school, where she would have to learn to be more independent and advocate for herself. She was unsure about the change.
"I don't know if it was more fear or paranoia," Ortiz said of starting classes last fall. "I think it was more of a fear -- I was never in a public school setting. I just didn't know what to expect."
Neither did her guidance counselor, Laura Santini.
"I also had a little anxiety," Santini said. She worried that the school, which has nearly 2,000 students, and its staff "would not be able to accommodate her physically and emotionally . . . it was a little bit of a learning curve on both ends."
To perform her schoolwork, Ortiz uses large print and an iPad or laptop that can magnify text and respond to voice commands. She took both special-education and mainstream classes at Bay Shore and did learn to advocate for herself.
This summer, Ortiz will work with visually impaired children in a program run by the New York State Commission for the Blind. She will also spend time with her family, including her twin sister, Sha-Niyah.
As she prepares to graduate with a Regents diploma, Ortiz said the switch was worth it.
"It worked out very well -- in fact, for the best," she said.
Santini would agree, noting that by the end of senior year, Ortiz "really became stronger . . . I could see a huge transformation."
Ortiz will study psychology at Manhattanville College.
Ortiz said she is looking forward to getting "into my major as soon as I can. I can't wait to study psychology."
WHAT MAKES YOU EXTRAORDINARY:
"I would say my visual impairment. Everyone is always asking me 'Do I feel sad that I can't see like others?' But I am, like, 'No.' There is nothing to feel bad about."