How Did I Get Here?
I was one of those kids for whom school was second nature. I loved being at school, earned good grades, tested well on standardized tests, and got tracked into the “advanced” classes all without too much effort on my part. I played school growing up and when it was time to go to college, I studied education. Growing up, I remember my parents saying they would not be paying for grades like some of my friends’ parents because it wouldn’t be fair to pay me for A’s that came so easily while my sister worked and studied twice as hard to get a B. It wasn’t until I grew up more that I really understood what they meant by that.
While studying education in college, I met many people with stories similar to mine, but I also met those that struggled as students, which is what pushed them to be teachers. One of those people is my now husband, Ben. When I first met Ben at age 19, he told me that what he really wanted was to be a pastor like his dad and grandfather, but learning was hard work for him so the idea of taking Greek and Latin was just too much. Instead, he decided to be an elementary school teacher. Because his own journey had been so hard, he was committed to making school a fun place to be for the next generation. When Ben was in 6th grade his struggles in school led his parents to seek out answers. Ben went through a series of aptitude tests and when his parents met with the counselor for the results they were told that the prospects were not good. They were told that he might not graduate from high school and college was absolutely out of the question. Being wise people, Ben’s parents did not tell him about the results of the test and continued to give him chances to grow and use his creative talents. They finally shared the results with Ben after he completed his freshman year of college on the Dean’s List. After many years of bringing joy to his students in the classroom, Ben was presented with the chance to go the seminary and has followed his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps in ministry as a pastor by completing the program with straight A’s.
During those same years, Ben and I had three amazing children who are all completely different from one another. Our oldest and only daughter, Gabby, was a good student in elementary school who became interested in science early on. I vividly remember going on a cruise with her when she was about 8 years old, and as part of the kids’ programming, she had the chance to dissect a squid. To me that sounded like an awful way to spend an afternoon vacation, but when we picked her up she was grinning from ear to ear as she filled us in on the “coolest thing she had ever done”. Going through school, she was blessed to have teachers who gave her chances to do things like raise crayfish and dissect pigs. In high school, she found out about the chance to attend free evening seminars at UT Southwestern and she and a friend would drive to Dallas to look at cross-sections of diseased brains. I began to watch her develop a passion and chase a dream with excitement. She is currently studying to be a physician assistant and every time she finds a chance to do something related to her field she takes it. Since I can’t even watch my own blood being drawn, I couldn’t be much help to giving her exposure to experiences in the medical field, but I could use what I was good at, relationships. I asked doctors who were parents of my students and former students if I could give Gabby their contact info. I was surprised at how willing people were to open their offices and lives to her. Watching Gabby’s journey sparked some questions for me and were the basis of some great conversations with one of my favorite fellow educators, Andra’ Barton. Wouldn’t it be great if more kids had the chance to dig a little deeper into an interest to discover if it might turn into a passion before they spent thousands of dollars on college level classes? How could we inspire the kind of curiosity Gabby experienced with the squid for all kinds of kids in all kinds of fields of study? What could we do for kids who aren’t fortunate enough to come across those experiences on family trips or in extracurricular programs?
Our middle child and oldest son, Ian was born just two years after his sister and he offers a completely different story. Ian was born curious! He explored all day long and found every weak spot in our baby-proofing. Very early on, Ian created. He created drawings and paper sculptures, mud paintings and sand creatures. I remember his preschool teacher stopping me one day to ask talk about a drawing he did at school. She wanted to make sure I knew that his drawings weren’t typical; he had talent. As Ian entered elementary school, we watched his artistic talent blossom, but so many other parts of school were torture. He couldn’t grasp reading, and we soon found ourselves working with an academic language therapist to help him overcome dyslexia. On his very first day with her, she told him about all the famous people and geniuses who were also dyslexic, and she convinced him from the very start that dyslexia was a gift. She explained that most dyslexic people were above-and-beyond talented at something and wanted to know what his talent was; he told her it was drawing. Sometime later, he brought her picture of a deer that made her jaw drop and she proudly displayed it on her refrigerator for years, even after he no longer visited her for tutoring. When Ian was 18, we ran into her at Target. She asked him about his art and told him that she still had that deer from 2nd grade hanging on her refrigerator. School, and all the testing that came with it, remained a struggle for Ian all the way through. As he grew into a high school student, he began to enjoy learning even though his writing never seemed to be good enough and his inability to memorize periodic elements and Spanish conjugations was the cause much frustration. Many school years, we finished with relief just to be at the end of it. With all the pressure on high school students today to put together an amazing academic and extracurricular profile for college, I was fearful of the college application process for Ian. While I worried, God went to work putting just the right people and opportunities in his path. He met a friend whose mother, Sanah Brown-Bowers, is an artist who took him under her wing. She showed him that it was possible to make a living as an artist and became a mentor for him, encouraging him to look into the Fine Art program at FIT in New York, a school that would evaluate him on his art portfolio alongside his academic portfolio. This became the dream, and I was just as blessed to watch Ian embrace his passion as I was to watch his sister. He started at FIT in the fall, studying art in New York City. As a mom, it is scary to think about sending my child that far away and to such a big place, but it is truly the chance of a lifetime. I am so proud of him for being brave enough to grab the chance and run with it.
Watching his journey continued to spark questions and conversations for Chance to Soar. How do we help kids who struggle in school to find their self-worth in other endeavors when they spend so many hours a day there? Does success really have to look the same for all students? How can we help kids chase a passion or a dream outside of the traditional classroom? How can we show kids that the possibilities for future careers is only as limited as their imagination? How can we make sure that every kid has someone to champion them and their talents?
As I said earlier, Ben and I have three children. The youngest is our son Jonas. Jonas is 16 and doesn’t have his future figured out yet. He likes lots of ideas, but isn’t truly passionate about any of them yet. His story is still waiting to be written. But even in that, it sparks questions and discussions for Chance to Soar. How could we create opportunities for kids like Jonas to try all kinds of experience to figure out what they are really good at or passionate about? How do we create motivation for students to be preparing for college when they don’t have a clear picture of what they want to study once they get there?
Andra and I have had many conversations about my children, her daughters, and the students that we have worked with in our schools. Out of all those, we started to see some common needs that deserved attention.
Curiosity in children fades away too quickly. It needs to be kept alive into adulthood if this generation is going to be the ones who cure cancer, stop violence, or reverse pollution.
All children need a chance to experience a plethora of ideas, opportunities, and skills to discover what they are passionate about, regardless of their family’s financial ability to pay for those experiences.
All children need to know that their self-worth is not defined by grades or the skills they possess, but by who they are. And they are ALL immeasurably valuable.
All children need to feel like they are an important and contributing part of the group, whether it is the family, the class, or the community.
Fear of failure shouldn’t stop children from trying something new. Risk-taking is an important part of learning.
The more we talked, the more we realized that as educators and trainers, we were equipped to address these needs and inspire other educators to do the same. We could make a difference for kids beyond the walls of whatever school we happened to be serving at the time. We had a chance to bring life to this dream by forming Chance to Soar, so we took it!