Rise & Shine: Academic Awakening.

My 8th grade graduation cake read, “Bev, Thank God You Made It!” As if there were some divine intervention that made it possible. Maybe the divine intervention wasn’t that I graduated, but rather, I escaped my elementary years and lived to tell others about it. Sharing with others wouldn’t happen until many years later though. I felt pretty ashamed of those years.
 We expect children to be well rounded and excel in every subject. They are expected to do well academically, athletically and socially. The truth is that we as adults do not excel in every subject. As adults, we know how to build off of our strengths. Children should be allowed to do so as well. -Beverly Verner, “Philosophy of Education” (Circa, 2002)
Most of my teacher conferences never focused on anything I had done “right.” They always started with: “Beverly is so shy” but “very cooperative.” As if being passive in education was a good thing? Perhaps, I was shy because I lacked the confidence to speak up. Being very cooperative was usually the highlight of my school conference as it just kept going downhill after that. Teachers shared that I was “someone who despite having the ability, consistently chooses to not apply herself,” a daydreamer, lazy and has a poor memory.
If you tell a child something long enough, odds are, they will believe it.
 Then something happened in 7th grade “mainstreamed” English. I had an awesome friend, Heather, who asked me if I wanted to work with her and another girl for our class project- a group interpretation of humorous poetry. We had to memorize material and present it to the class. Heather didn’t realize it, but her nudge did for me what no teacher up to that point even came close to doing. She helped give me a platform to find my voice.
The following year, I auditioned and was placed on the school speech team. Suddenly, the girl with the poor memory, the daydreamer who didn’t apply herself felt valued and proud. It was as though I found a sanctuary upon a raft in the ocean that saved me from a rip tide.
Every child is gifted and talented. It’s up to parents and teachers to help children discover their gifts and build upon them. Teachers and parents are a guide to show a child what is possible. -Beverly Verner (Teaching Philosophy, circa 2002)

High School offered so much more than just academics. For me, it was an opportunity to pursue interests like theatre, photography and dance. As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for the Arts, I may not have been invested in high school at all. The Arts, for me, provided a platform to build and learn off of. A place to share my gifts and shine that extended far beyond the stage and into the classroom.

My parents had my academic records sealed from my elementary and junior high years prior to my entrance to high school. Something amazing happened  to me in high school.  Teachers were suddenly describing me as outgoing, talented, creative, polite and smart.

My Freshman year English teacher gave me an 86% on an essay and she called me up after class to speak. She said that I’m smart and she expects more from me. While my parents always told me I was smart and talented, this was significant to me. Up to this point, after 9 years of being in school, this was the first time I ever heard a teacher say to me that I was smart.

Words are so powerful. They are active! With so many people describing me with such powerful, positive words my personal expectations for the work I produced went up. As a matter of fact, for the first time in school, I wanted to do well. The arts didn’t only give me an education, they saved my education.

One of the main reasons I went to college to become a teacher was because of the poor teachers and broken system I experienced growing up. As teacher candidate in the College of Education my sophomore year, I went back to my first elementary school to earn my pre-service hours. The principal, who was a teacher at the time I was in school remembered me. He lead me outside of the school, across the playground to the basement of a house the school district purchased for additional classrooms. He welcomed me to the “LD” (learning disabilities) classroom where he assigned me to work.

My heart sank a little. I remember thinking that after all these years, he still doesn’t see “me” but rather the label I wore while here. It was at that moment that I understood how someone in a wheel chair must feel when someone notices their chair before they notice them. Or, how a child that comes from another country must feel when they need help with learning English, but their high aptitude for mathematics is ignored. I knew if I were to be the best teacher I could be, I had to confront those demons- those feelings and move on.

Below the music class, in the basement of a bungalow, I would report every day. On my last day, I had a candid conversation with the teacher. She gave me an excellent review in addition to a referral. I shared with her that I was once a child labeled early on with a learning disability. She looked rather surprised at me and said, “But you are so articulate and smart.” I felt my head tip down but I forced it back up and replied, “Thank you. These kids are too.”

I took all my notes from my classroom experiences and I wrote an assigned paper for one of my professors. I didn’t just turn in that paper to my professor. I submitted the same paper to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, who faxed me back asking permission to publish it.

Despite it’s condition, I’m glad I saved it all these years!
 It wasn’t until I was going through boxes of things from my past as I packed to relocate to another state that I came across something that made me pause…

Remember how I mentioned that I was selected to be on the speech team in 7th grade? Here is the letter signed from the “Gifted” coordinator. Gifted. I let that sink in my bones a little. Let that sink into your bones a little too.

So here’s the deal, I was a kid who was labeled early on in school and struggled academically. In fact, there is a whole slew of people that you may know of that are successful and even famous, that were labeled with a learning disability just like me. Perhaps, just like you. That doesn’t mean you aren’t smart. Just in case no one has ever told you this…You ARE smart.
While I am not an expert, if your child has been identified as someone with a learning disability, my inner elementary student has a few things to share with you:
1. Question how your child has been identified. What was the process? Was this based on a formal test or observations? When was this done? In what environment? How well does this person know your child?
2. For recommended intervention that removes your child from his or her current classroom ask what will be the subjects and activities your child would be missing while receiving support? The last thing you want to do is remove a child from a subject that they love and look forward to.
3. How is progress charted? Is your child assessed again and by who? What is their success rate in the past?
4. Ask how much additional funding per child the school receives in regard to learning disabilities.
5. Remember, education is a partnership: the student, teacher and child. No one is to carry the sole responsibility of a child’s education on their shoulders. Be a stakeholder in your child’s education.
6. Be an advocate for your child. Far too often people think that advocacy is a confrontational approach. Be an active, engaged parent. Show the teacher that you are not only supporting your child, but his or her role as well. Win-win.
7. Never allow anyone to forget that your child IS smart, unique and gifted. Share these powerful words with your child often.
8. Tap into how your child best learns. Be more interested in how they came to the conclusion of a wrong answer than a right one as that is a clue as to how they learn. Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences state many different ways in which we all learn.
 9. Remember to see the big picture. Getting additional help doesn’t mean that your child isn’t smart. This is just one small piece in a very big puzzle for a lifetime of learning. We all need a little help once in a while- even as adults.
While in the College of Education, when ever I saw my advisor, mentor and professor she would say to me, “You are a firecracker!” We would both laugh. She was right. All I needed was a little spark and then BAM! Unstoppable! After relocating to a different state, getting married and having kids, I did complete my college degree…as a member of an honor society.