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Lavanya Balakrishnan, class 12 CBSE topper in arts, dreams of a future in graphic design

At a time when tuitions and coaching classes seem to be the norm for students, Lavanya Balakrishnan chose to defy the trend. Not only did she study on her own, Lavanya had fun right through, meeting friends, watching TV and getting enough sleep. She scored 97.8% in humanities, earning the distinction of topping the class 12 CBSE exams in the Children with Special Needs category.

I have been an average student right through, so I was surprised by the result. I had a lot of help from my parents and teachers as well as my mentor in school, Nina Kaul, who was of great support during moments of stress. - Lavanya Balakrishnan, Class 12 CBSE Arts topper, Special Needs Category

Lavanya's animated and confident nature is evident in her voice. Nothing sets this young woman back, not the pressure of exams or the fact that she is hard of hearing in both ears. "Initially, when I started wearing hearing aids in class 7, I was embarrassed, says Lavanya. "People would state at me and that felt awkward. What helped was that no one in my family made a big deal about it. My mom told me 'disability is not the only thing about you' and that helped a lot.

In school, Lavanya faced some difficulty following lessons in class but teachers at the Heritage Xperiential Learning School (HXLS) in Gurgaon supported her fully, from extra classes to teaching material. They kept Lavanya's mother in the loop as well to ensure that Lavanya was up to date with everything in the classroom.

What also helped was the larger collective approach towards education followed at HXLS. Teachers here are encouraged to look at every child as a whole rather than focus on one specific ability. The classes are structured such that the lesson plans move ahead only when every child reaches a certain level.

More importantly, once a child is in class 12, he/she is assigned a mentor, who works as a counsellor and guide. Nina Kaul, who is the English Coordinator at HXLS, mentored Lavanya as well as her sister before her.

"I mentored her sister when I joined the school and somewhere Lavanya had that faith and chose me says Kaul. "Anytime she felt low, she would be outside the faculty room asking to speak to me. Even at 10.30 PM I would get a message on WhatsApp from her sometimes saying 'I'm stressed' or 'I have watched too much TV', so I would say calm her down.

Along with her mentor, Lavanya chalked out a plan so she would make the best us of her hours in a day. This way she could check her progress regularly. "I studied six hours a day through the year and in the last one to two months, I increased this to 10-11 hours, says Lavanya. "I could not have done this without my parents and teachers. Even without a disability there's a limit to what you can do.

Lavanya's future plans include a degree in graphic design from the prestigious National Institute of Design (NID) or National Institute of Fashion Technology. Given her focus, spirit and confidence, the world is going to be reading a lot more about Lavanya Balakrishnan.

ALSO READ:Cerebral palsy no barrier for Bareilly CBSE topper Mahima Shah

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