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Third place winner Ian Schillinger-Brokaw Chatham High School

Leaving Public School Behind

As children we are taught to believe that we can do anything. Sometimes, however, circumstances arise that cause us to doubt that belief. During those times it is important to remember the words of Pablo Picasso, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

The memory is still quite vivid although I was only seven years old at the time. I had fought back the tears, brought on by anger and frustration, all the way home, but as soon as my feet hit the driveway and the school bus pulled away my reserve vanished and I entered the house sobbing. “I hate school and I’m never going back!” I pronounced emphatically to my mother and everyone else within a three mile radius. “I can’t do it – I hate writing and I hate reading and I’m quitting school.” That being said (or rather shouted) I retreated to the woods in back of the house with my dog. Second grade had not been the fun experience I had been promised. I enjoyed the projects and experiments but reading and writing, and especially spelling, were the bane of my existence. When I got older, my mother told me how, during those first two years of school, she had watched a happy, curious, imaginative boy transform into a sullen and sad child. Suspecting learning difficulties, my mother took me to an expert in the field. After hours of assessments I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia; my young life was about to change dramatically.

Conferences with the testing psychologist and school personnel, and hours of contemplation by my parents ultimately led to the decision to home school. I remember my first day of instruction at home. The kitchen was filled with the names and pictures of famous people who learned differently: Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Pablo Picasso. I was in good company. My mother explained to me that I learned differently than many other children but that did not mean that I could not learn. I would have to develop new strategies and learn new techniques but with those in place, I would be able to achieve anything I desired.

Initially I learned at home. As much of my instruction as possible was hands-on learning. When I studied measurement we unrolled toilet tissue across the field; the geography of Alaska was taught by cutting out a cake in the shape of the state and decorating it with various candies to represent rivers and mountains; and the concept of metamorphosis was mastered after watching caterpillars turn into monarch butterflies. School was now exciting.

Within a year I joined a home schooling group which allowed me to learn with other children in a cooperative setting. Instead of one teacher I now had four and I began to thrive intellectually and emotionally. Age ceased to be the criteria for academic content and I was allowed to learn at my own pace. In seventh grade our history group was using a college text and we devoured the material, engaged three times a week in dynamic conversations and debates. The boy who had hated writing and reading now looked forward to our literature group where we thrilled to the works of Shakespeare and Sophocles. Science was taught jointly by a physicist and a biologist who were both able to demonstrate and explain concepts to a child who found memorization almost impossible. Classes on critical thinking and creative problem solving fed my love of “thinking outside the box.” My unique learning style was embraced and my strengths were recognized and often used as a way to address my needs.

In ninth grade I returned to public school and will be completing my senior year this June. The experiences, encouragement and acceptance I received during my home schooling years provided me with the skills necessary to thrive in high school. The AP English and history courses I have taken, all of which demanded a great deal of writing, have been some of my favorite classes; I never would have foreseen this ten years ago. I have accepted my learning differences, and in many instances, have found them to be an asset. I have learned that you can often do that which you think you cannot. I have learned to challenge myself and I look forward to the multitude of adventures that await me in my college experiences.