Alumni Stories

Luke Patterson ('12)

The Thick Fog of Dyslexia
By Luke Patterson (’12)
Published in The Schenck School Story Spring 2016

 

Luke Patterson.jpg
I was crying, frustrated, and bewildered, not knowing what was wrong with me. “C’mon Luke you can do it, just put your mind to it!” my mom said.

“I’m trying, I am putting my mind to it!” I replied. I didn’t know what was wrong with me; neither did my mom, dad, or teachers. I’m not a slacker, I just didn’t know how to read, write, or spell. I thought I was stupid; my mom and teachers just said that I was “different”. What does that mean exactly, I thought repeatedly. “The word is dog, do you not see that?” my mother said.

“No I see: odg”, I said, and then my mom asked, “Why?” That was the big question, “Why?”, why do I see “odg” instead of dog and why does it seem like I’m dumb? I was stumped, I was a five-year-old who couldn’t read, write, or spell- Why?

 My teachers said that I worked and tried, but that I just couldn’t get it. The biggest problem was the reading, because to write and spell you need to be able to read. I was at my Nana’s house in Murphy, North Carolina. I loved my Nana’s house, where I would eat cookies and ice cream, go on adventures, and watch movies. The only thing that I dreaded about my Nana’s house is that, before bed every night, we would read a book, and she would make me read after she read it to me. The reason I dreaded this so much is because I couldn’t read. The book was “The Three Little Bears.” I loved that book when it was read to me, but I hated any book that I had to read. I tried to read the word “little.” All I saw was: “lttile.” My Nana said, “Just read it, you can do it.”

I replied; “I’m trying, I just can’t do it.” I started bawling and was frustrated with myself and ran upstairs.

I was through with being “different;” I had shed too many tears and yelled too many words at myself over being “different.” Finally, my family and I had a conversation about my situation. Then, my dad said something huge. He said “My brother had this learning disability called dyslexia.” After my dad’s significant remark, we looked up the word dyslexia. My dad read “dyslexia- a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence.

“Maybe you have dyslexia. It does not affect general intelligence. I told you that you were smart,” said my mom and dad in perfect harmony. This episode made me feel better about myself, but I still wanted to know if I had dyslexia and, if so, how to fix it.


My mom said I needed to be tested, and I was so excited because this meant that I might be released from the plague of dyslexia. My mom scheduled a testing and evaluation session with Dr. Nancy Hatcher. After two days of testing, Dr. Hatcher came back with a diagnosis of dyslexia, as we suspected. I was very relieved to hear the results, because now I knew what was wrong with me.

The next challenge was finding a school that could help me overcome the thick fog of dyslexia. Fortunately, the solution to my predicament was approximately two miles from my house.

The solution was located at a place called The Schenck School. David Schenck founded The Schenck School in 1959 to help kids with dyslexia learn how to read, using the Orton-Gillingham Approach of teaching. I applied to the School, had an interview and was thankfully accepted! I started at The Schenck School in 1st grade, and after the first day I knew that I was at the right place. Once they started explaining how the Orton-Gillingham Approach worked, a light bulb switched on. Next thing I knew, I was in 3rd grade, and 1st and 2nd grade had flown by. By 3rd grade I could read, write, and spell very well. All the teachers were saying that it was time for me to leave The Schenck School and make my way to a mainstream school. I was nervous about leaving The Schenck School, all my friends, and the positive environment there. I knew in the end; however, that it would turn out ok for me, because at last the thick fog of dyslexia had lifted.

Now, I’m at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in 7th grade, and I finished the first semester with a 95 in English. The moral of this memoir is, to all the kids with dyslexia, just know that school may seem impossible right now. But I want you to know that there is hope and you will see your light at the end of the tunnel.

Luke wrote this essay for an assignment in his English class. The assignment asked students to share something about their life experience that was unique to them.

Indie Ritchie ('08)

A Father’s Reflection on His Daughter’s Journey
Diff Ritchie
Published in The Schenck School Story , Spring 2016

Diff Ritchie, father to India Schley-Ritchie (’08) shared his gratitude and reflections on his daughter’s journey with dyslexia with us in an email this past winter. Diff graciously allowed us to share his words.

I have said it before but The Schenck School worked wonders for India. The system released her intellect and provided a base that the Atlanta Girls’ School and a core of teachers in particular built on to give India the confidence to take on difficult challenges.

India loves to read and is an excellent writer – who would have thought someone with dyslexia would chose a double major in international studies and English. She also could have exempted foreign language but chose to take Spanish at Atlanta Girls’ School (AGS), putting in the hard work, and is taking Spanish at Skidmore. Spanish as a second language wasn’t easy to crack and we didn’t push her - but with some dedicated work by her AGS teacher (and plenty of tutorials).

I have also noticed how India has taken the techniques she learned as part of the Orton-Gillingham Approach and applied it to areas like chemistry to unlock those subjects with a language specific to that discipline. Certainly an underappreciated (by me at the time) benefit of The Schenck School was the culture of discipline, hard work and a system to unlock difficult concepts and structures that could be used by the student throughout their life to access other information in disciplines other than reading and language arts.

India’s journey has only reinforced my understanding of the exceptional intellect that goes with The Schenck School brand of dyslexia – at least from what I observed with India and her Schenck School classmates while they were at the School. Someone may remember that India was in the library constantly and eventually became a “tester” for books being considered for purchase to add to the permanent collection. This is quite a journey for a young women struggling to read at grade level in the third grade wondering why she was falling behind.

We will always be grateful for what The Schenck School has meant for India as she continues to amaze us.

Indie Ritchie.jpg
India Schley-Ritchie (’08) is a sophomore at Skidmore College where she is double majoring in English and international affairs. At Skidmore, India hosts a radio show, and over winter break participated in Skidmore’s educational travel seminar to Cuba where she visited Havana, Vinales and the Bay of Pigs. This summer India is planning to work on Nantucket Island. Last summer India was a sales intern for Womenetics, a business dedicated to advancing women leaders.


Harrison Armentrout ('15)

Schenck Swap
By
Harrison Armentrout (’15)
Published in The Schenck School Story, Spring 2016

Harrison Armentrout.jpg
I thought it was going to be the worst experience of my life, but little did I know it would soon end up being something amazing. It all started when I was in school.

 

When I was in kindergarten, I kept getting my B's and D's wrong, and I would get words mixed up. I didn't know that I was doing this, but my teachers and parents did. My family tried to find a school that was good for me because they found out that I had dyslexia.

We went on tours of schools that help students like me. We ended up choosing The Schenck School because it was the best fit for me. The School was nearby, it had a good carpool in my neighborhood, and I also liked everyone who was there.

Once I figured out I was leaving Trinity School, I didn't want to. Every night, I went up to my Mom's office and asked her, "Why do I have to leave?" I didn't have a choice. I had to leave.

The night before my first day was horrible because I knew it was a new school and because I thought everyone had been with each other for a while. I thought it was going to be hard to make friends. It was really frustrating, and it was really hard to sleep that night. The first day ended up being great because it turned out there were also a lot of new kids, and the classes weren't that big. The teachers were nice.

My first year was amazing because my PE teacher was really nice and the art teacher let us free draw. All the teachers helped me a lot. In first grade we would tell the teacher the sentence and then she would write it on pieces of paper for us to put into our sentence strip. Next, we would put the sentence strip up on a wall to be sure it was right. Finally, we would take our sentence strips to our desks and copy them. This process helped me to learn how to spell words and read them.

Second and third grades were also super fun because the teachers were also really nice and supportive.

I go to Trinity School now. Now that I have graduated from The Schenck School, I can look back and say, "The Schenck School changed my life!"

Harrison is in 4th grade at Trinity School. Outside of school, Harrison is an avid lacrosse player playing for The Northside Lacrosse Surge and Coast2Coast Lacrosse Academy. He wrote “Schenck Swap” for a creative writing class assignment.

Taylor Dennis ('09)

Gratitude
by
Taylor Dennis (’09)
Published in The Schenck School Story, Spring 2016

Taylor Dennis.jpg
After so many problems and challenges reading and writing in the first grade, I learned I was dyslexic. I was so extremely dyslexic that it was obvious that something was wrong with me almost immediately after I started school that year. It was almost like something magic (reading) had happened to everyone else during the summer but had somehow passed me by. By Thanksgiving, I was tested and diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD. I started tutoring right away, but it was a hard, long year despite my parents and my tutor's help. The entry below was from my last day of first grade.

 

Max Brauer ('11)

Young Alum Gives Back to the School
Max Brauer ’11
Published in The Schenck School Annual Report 2015-2016

An excerpt from Max’s speech at his Eagle Scout Ceremony

“Now all of you have just heard what my Eagle project was, but I would like to explain why I chose to do my project for The Schenck School. It was because they are the ones, after my family of course, who gave me the tools to succeed and be confident in life. Before going to Schenck, I was doing poorly in school and miserable with myself. Once I arrived there, I understood that my dyslexia was something that I could work with and even use to my advantage. It would not be an exaggeration to say that if it was not for them, I quite possibly would not have been able to be motivated enough to get my Eagle Scout rank or any other award that I have received in recent years. It is not possible for me to describe the great miracles that the school performs for its students. I remember the day I was accepted. We were waiting for one more spot to open up, but it wasn’t looking good. In fact, we were actually on our way to pay the deposit check to Saint Francis when my mom got a call with the good news. She was so happy for me that she began to cry tears of joy. So naturally, when it came time to do a service project, it would have been right to do it for this school.”

Max Brauer PLEASE CROP.jpg
Max is a senior at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School (HIES). Throughout Max’s academic career at Holy Innocents’, he has remained on the honor roll and Headmaster’s List for maintaining a 95 grade average or higher in his classes. This year, Max was inducted into the National Honor Society, the Science National Honor Society, and the HIES Cum Laude Society; he was also elected to the Integrity Council. Max is also on the Varsity Tennis Team. In December, Max achieved Eagle Scout rank which is the highest achievement within the Boy Scouts of America. Max’s Eagle Scout Project included building bench seating for The Schenck School’s outdoor classroom. Faculty member Janet Street, Max’s former teacher, attended Max’s Eagle Scout ceremony. This summer, Max will work as in intern in the IT Department at Fidelity Investments in Dallas, Texas.

 

Allison Arne ('09)

Dyslexia is Strength
by
Allison Arne (’09)
Published in The Schenck School Annual Report 2015-2016

Allison Arne (1).jpg
The dinner table lacked food. I sat at my place crying, next to my teary eyed mom. I was stupid, and we both knew it. It had been another long night of writing and rewriting the same word on a piece of paper. It was second grade, and I still could not spell chocolate for my spelling test the next day. I sat blubbering out tears of worthlessness knowing I was dumb. Silent tears of frustration stained my mother’s face; she didn’t know how to help me. I would come home later that week with yet another failing test grade. My lack of self-confidence from constantly failing continued another year until one summer day before fourth grade. After days of testing with strangers, Mom told me I was dyslexic and always would be. She also said I was smart. I asked “You mean I’m Georgia Tech Smart?” Unfortunately, she didn’t only tell me I was dyslexic, she told everyone. I avoided those who knew, quickly diving into the pool, because they would know I was weird and different. A new school accepted me as a student. I told all of my friends I was going to pirate school, not realizing private was a totally different word. I started my fourth grade year as a student at the Schenck School, a place only for dyslexics, where I learned how to be me.

At Schenck, I learned Orton Gillingham, a different way to decipher English words. But the most important thing was everyone was like me. Soon I was rushing home with the Tale of Despereaux in hand, plopping down on my bed, and eating the words up. Eventually I craved this new knowledge and craved showing people my reading skills. Each day I learned something new, whether I learned Latin prefixes or the simple rhyme “I before e except after c or when sounding like ‘a’ as in neighbor or weigh.” I couldn’t get enough of school. Although reading takes me places I have never been, my favorite part was my father saying to me recently, “Allison, your love of reading makes me so proud, because I never thought you’d say that eight years ago. It’s a miracle.”

I craved learning and loved Schenck, but eventually I had to return to my old world. Schenck decided I had all the skills I needed. My mom advocated for me throughout middle school and told teachers about my disabilities and academic needs. I was first put in the classes with students who weren’t motivated to learn, but with my mom’s advocacy I was tested for and placed in the gifted program to take my education as far as I could. My grades soared throughout middle school, as did my group of friends, who believed I was smart despite my dyslexia.

Entering high school, I walked up to all of my teachers after school, making rounds to tell them I was dyslexic and that eventually I might need help and extended time. I was no longer the tiny six grader whose mom told the school everything. I was me: a strong, independent dyslexic who loves to learn and be the best I can be. My attitude towards learning didn’t change, and I became proud of the fact that I was dyslexic. For me, dyslexia is a strength.

My dyslexia taught me to work for my grades and my education. My time management skills have improved to compensate for my slower processing. Managing sleep, family, friends, studying, music lessons, and swimming has been a challenge but I have found ways to accomplish all of them. Last year while I watched friends enjoy their high school time, I sat up very late each night studying and reading because each assignment took me longer. In addition to academics, dyslexia affects how I read music. It impacts my ability to interpret symbols, maintain tempos, and read the notes properly. This makes sight reading in class and during auditions frustrating. I have worked hard with my music teachers to overcome these challenges. My struggles as a dyslexic have made me a stronger person through hard work and increased determination.

Students and teachers are surprised to find out that I’m dyslexic. They perceive dyslexics as being dumb. I try to teach others how a dyslexic just learns differently. I still come across people who get angry when I get extended time because to them I am smart enough to not need it. Just this month, a girl in one of my AP classes became visibly furious that I was allowed to stay and finish a test when she wasn’t. At first, I was taken aback and confused as to how such a bright girl felt that way. I realized I needed to explain why I need extended time and how I process differently from her. Other people look at me, some of them my best friends, and say “Man, I wish I had extended time. You don’t even need it because you’re smart.” I find myself having to explain: “You don’t have a disability. I love being dyslexic but I can’t tell what I would give to be normal and be able to process as fast as those without a learning disability.”

My dyslexia has shaped me and I love who I have become. Dyslexia has been one of the biggest struggles and greatest gifts of my life. When I went on a trip my junior year and was asked to say something personal about myself, I stood up and looked around. “I’m dyslexic. Everyone thought I was dumb but I’m taking the hardest classes at my school this coming year. I’m going to prove them all wrong.” And I sat down.

This essay was written by Allison for her college applications.

Allison is currently at senior at Lakeside High School where she is in her third year as a member of the Beta Club, serving as vice president her junior year and president her senior year. In addition, she is a member of the National Honor Society and Tri-M Music Society. In her junior year, she was named an AP Scholar and received the George Eastman Young Leaders Award. Also in her junior year, she scored an 800 on her math SAT. Outside of the classroom, Allison is an accomplished musician. She plays oboe, cymbals and piano in the School’s band and marching band. In addition, Allison has been on the school’s varsity swim team for four years and this year was elected as team captain. During her summers, Allison swims for a summer swim league and has been a swim coach for her league for the past 3 years. Allison is also four-year member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and has been a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church where she served as a youth representative on three committees. She is also an i nternational ambassador through the People to People Student Ambassador Program and loves to travel with her family. Allison has been accepted to several colleges including UGA's Honors Program and UNC-Chapel Hill. However, she wants to experience the northeast and cold winters so she plans to attend the University of Rochester in the fall and major in one of the sciences, possibly neuroscience .

Briton Cole ('10-'13)


Creating My Canvas
(Published Fall 2015)

Britton Cole.jpg
When Ms. Dukes, my fourth grade teacher, asked me to paint something to put in her classroom, I was so excited. Then the idea came to me. I would paint the vowels. But what were “A, E, I, O, and U”? Before I went to The Schenck School, those were letters and nothing more to me. When I stepped in that classroom they suddenly started to come at me. The vowels were like race horses not knowing which one would take the lead, but knowing with a little help they could lead me to the finish line.

The Schenck School helped me paint the pictures of words I didn’t understand. I came to The Schenck School with a blank canvas to start painting. I wanted to know how to read, a gift I was not sure I would ever know how to do. Just like painting, it takes time to learn and do. For some, it’s a year, maybe two or three. You don’t know where you’ll end up, but in some ways you know that it will get better and it did for me. I look at myself now, two years out of The Schenck School. That small little dot on that HUGE blank canvas has blown into an explosion of color, slowly growing into a master piece little by little, day by day. I find something new in myself that never would have been possible if it weren’t for one place, The Schenck School.

Briton Cole recently completed 8th grade at Woodward Academy. While at Woodward she was goalie for the middle school lacrosse team. Briton will attend North Atlanta High School for 9th grade.

In Their Own Words

Alumni Share Their Journeys as Students with Dyslexia

We LOVE to hear from our alumni!  If you have a story to share, please email us at alumni@schenck.org or call us;  Sandy McCauley, Alumni Coordinator, 404.252.2591, ext. 127 or Ellen Hill, Director of Outplacement, 404.252.2591, ext. 105.