Student with “Medallion Member Recognition”

Exchange Student Honors Indian Hills High School with “Medallion Member Recognition”
Posted on 05/15/2024

Mert Ozer, an exchange student from Turkey who is blind, found a supportive community at Indian Hills High School, where his talents were the focus, rather than his disability.


As Mert presented a “Medallion Member Recognition” certificate on behalf of the U.S. Department of State to Principal Dr. Gregory Vacca on May 13, he explained how his experience at Indian Hills greatly changed his perspective on life.


“I am so grateful to Indian Hills because I had the ability to challenge myself here and I had teachers who believed in me more than I did in myself,” he said. “This has been my best school year so far.”


Mert participates in the U.S. Department of State’s Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, enabling high school students from predominantly Muslim countries to spend an academic year in the U.S. Indian Hills extended an opportunity to him as the school’s first exchange student who is blind.


Mert expressed gratitude to his teachers for their dedication in meeting his learning needs and presenting academic challenges. Their innovative teaching methods, including graphing in physics, surpassed his expectations. Tailored resources like a graph board and 3D imagery helped him grasp previously challenging concepts. Additionally, he enjoyed adaptive sports like Goalball, ensuring his full engagement in activities suited to his needs.


“Mert's presence in our school community has been transformative. His passion for music and his spirit have inspired us all to reach for greater heights,” said Dr. Vacca. “Having him here with us has been a true exchange experience. He has taught us so much.”


Having played piano for a decade and taken guitar lessons in New Jersey, Mert's musical talents blossomed at Indian Hills. He showcased his skills in the Indian Hills High School Talent show and starred in the spring production of “SpongeBob, the Musical.”


“We should be so proud of our school system for having a policy that supports this exchange program,” said Ann Ford, Mert’s host parent for the exchange program. “I cannot thank everyone enough and I couldn't be prouder of the acceptance and embrace we've experienced.”


YES program participants live with a host family, attend school, acquire leadership skills, and engage in activities to learn about U.S. society and values.


"Mert's integration into our school community underscores the belief that every individual, regardless of background or ability, has the potential to thrive. We are proud to have played a part in his academic and personal growth,” said Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Baker.

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