Montgomery County High School Grad Wins Award, Overcomes Adversity

Zusil Atkins of Lower Merion receives an award from Agora CEO Dr. Rich Jensen.
Image via Agora Cyber Charter School.
Zusil Atkins of Lower Merion receives an award from Agora CEO Dr. Rich Jensen.

Zusil Atkins, a Lower Merion resident and recent graduate of Agora Cyber Charter School in King of Prussia, is headed off to college despite being told in the 4th grade that he would never achieve a higher education.

Atkins received Agor’s Karol Canfield Award which recognizes a special education student with an outstanding academic record headed to college or a trade.

They came to Agora in the 4th grade because of bullying in private school. It wasn’t a healthy environment, and they were having trouble getting a good IEP at their local school district.

“I called Agora, spoke to the Special Education department and was blown away by their warmth and welcoming. Agora officials said ‘academics will come. Now we need to focus on self-worth, self-love and being comfortable with yourself before anything.’ That blew me away,” Atkins’ mom said.

“Everyone expressed concern about going virtual. We received pushback this entire time from friends, family, and locals who would say ‘this is such a good district, why go elsewhere?’ Seeing Zusil thrive also helped. It was hard for Zusil to adapt at first since they have PTSD from bullying.”

She added, “Teachers had to work extra hard to earn Zusil’s trust, get them to participate and be open. We were very lucky we had a school psychologist at the time who did cognitive behavioral therapy to help too. There was so much open warmth. The approach focusing on Zusil’s self-confidence paid off. By the end of 4th grade, we had major gains. Zusil enrolled at Agora a few grades behind, and we saw major academic gains just from focusing on Zusil feeling comfortable and safe. They were right. The academics came once they felt the warmth and ability to believe in themselves.” 

Atkins worked closely with a Special Education coordinator to plan a career path.

“I took a U.S. Government class and that helped me find what I want to be. The more I learned the more I wanted to get involved to make things better. Then I took AP Gov and then a class on Law and Order and I decided on Criminal Justice and will attend Penn State World Campus to start,” Atkins said.

They want to go into civil rights law. Between the classes and some lobbying/political experience with their mom, Atkins now has a purpose and really wants to use their story to help others.

Atkins’ collegiate experience will begin virtually. At Agora, they were an asynchronous not live learner because of several medical conditions. They have an auto-immune disorder that causes migraines and dizzy spells, Tourette’s Syndrome, and severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.

During their first year at Agora, they were allowed to use a sign that would allow them to leave the computer when they needed to.

On winning the award, Atkins said, “I feel like I’ve come so far from where I began. I have grown.” 

Read more about Agora’s approach to learning at Agora Cyber Charter School.


More on Zusil’s award.

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