This story is part of a series of profiles the Ventura County Office of Education is presenting about outstanding graduating seniors in the Class of 2023.
Joey Hazlett was diagnosed with autism in sixth grade. “It makes it so that my brain is kind of running nonstop,” he says. “Even when I’m trying to stop thinking, my brain just comes up with something new to think about and it makes me hyper-focused on stuff.”
Joey’s analytical way of thinking also impacted his social interactions, leading to difficulties in school where he often felt misunderstood and out of place. Joey’s mom Johnna says all that changed when he was referred to Triton Academy in Camarillo. The school operated by the Ventura County Office of Education focuses on serving kids on the autism spectrum.
Johnna remembers one time when Triton teacher Nathan Dybvig assigned students to list all the roads between two points on a map. Joey followed the directions precisely and listed only roads, but not streets, avenues or drives. Joey became upset that his answer wasn’t what the teacher wanted. But instead of blaming Joey, Mr. Dybvig took responsibility for not giving more specific instructions. “From that very first day I realized we were in a different place than we had been before,” Johnna says. “We were finally at a place that understood what Joey needed and how his brain worked and how to work with him.”
Joey says the teachers and staff at Triton have made a real difference in his life. “Ms. Wilson really understands me and is super helpful. Mr. Castaniero (Triton’s principal) is nice because he goes from class to class saying hi to people rather than just being in his office all day. And Mr. Dybvig really understands and adapts to each kid.”
Joey says it’s a surreal feeling knowing he’s about to graduate from high school. “It feels like just a week ago that I came to this school,” he says. “I do feel good that I’ve managed to get my diploma.” Joey has already taken a few online courses at Moorpark College and plans to enroll at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. He has a knack for technology and hopes to start a career in IT, helping people with their computers.
When it comes to autism, Joey wants people to know that it truly is a spectrum. “Autism isn’t one thing,” he says. “Some kids have more trouble than others. Everybody’s different.”
With her son about to graduate, Johnna has nothing but gratitude for the people at Triton Academy who helped him reach this milestone. “When I look at my son now, he’s confident, he’s understood, he’s successful, he’s thriving,” she says. “The magic for me is in the people and everything they bring every day to help my son be the best that he can be.”