Breaking Down Barriers, One Karate Belt At A Time

A Challenging Childhood

Irasema McAllister says her son, Andrei, learned to be a problem solver from an early age.

When he was three years old, he was diagnosed with a speech impairment and placed in a severely handicapped class.

“He quickly excelled in school, and his teacher placed him in a less restrictive environment,” Irasema says.

Still, Andrei was determined to challenge himself further. He wanted to move to general education.

“I focused on my goal and worked really hard,” Andrei says.

A year later, he made the transition to a general education classroom.

“Because I never stopped trying.”

An Award-Winning Attitude

Andrei McAllister lives by a simple but powerful life motto: anything is possible.

“No matter how hard the challenge, if you keep trying you can succeed,” Andrei says.

Andrei should know. He was recently selected as a winner of the Council for Exceptional Children’s 2018 “Yes I Can” award. The program is sponsored by Pearson.

Each of the award winners is recognized for contributing to his or her community in one the following categories: academics, arts, technology, self-advocacy, school and community activities, and transition.

Andrei, an accomplished student and chess player from Irvine, California, won an award in the academics category.

Facing Challenges Head On

Once enrolled in general education classes, Andrei continued to push boundaries—despite facing more tough challenges.

When he was feeling bullied, he signed up for karate classes.

Now he’s a black and white belt – one rank away from earning a coveted black belt.

In middle school, he asked to take an extra elective class.

The school added a 7 a.m. class to his full schedule—and Andrei continued to earn As and Bs.

“So many people – especially my mom – encouraged me to keep trying,” Andrei says.

“It motivated me to succeed,” he says.

Now, Andrei is in high school and has set a new goal: to enroll in Advanced Placement classes.

“Even though school is hard for Andrei, he has always pushed forward,” Irasema says.

“He helped open the door for other students with special needs who want to challenge themselves.”

Check Mate

16 months ago, Andrei discovered a new passion: chess.

“I love challenges that that can help my education,” Andrei says.

“Chess is all about problem solving, so I knew it was something I would enjoy.”

Andrei has competed at elite tournaments alongside some of the best chess players in the world.

At a highly selective international competition in Las Vegas, in once of the categories, Andrei placed 9th out of 2,000 people.

“It was so amazing,” Andrei says.

“It gave me the confidence to do even more tournaments.”

Setting an Example

Andrei’s fearlessness taking on challenges, especially in his education, was a contributing factor to his “Yes I Can” win, according to the official announcement from the Council for Exceptional Children.

Earlier this month, Andrei and eleven other recipients traveled to Tampa to receive their awards.

Andrei says it was a great experience to meet other exceptional students like him.

“Even though we were all from different places, we shared a bond,” Andrei says.

“Everyone was unique – like me. Our accomplishments show the world that we can do anything.”

Andrei’s “Yes I Can” win is the culmination of years of hard work – and Andrei is only just getting started.

“I’ve been thinking about joining the Marine Corps, the Navy or the Army after college,” Andrei says.

“I still have time to make a decision, but I know I want to make a difference and help people.”

One thing is certain: Andrei’s positive attitude will help him succeed, wherever the future takes him.

“Everyone was unique – like me. Our accomplishments show the world that we can do anything,” Andrei says of meeting the eleven other “Yes I Can” award recipients.