Have you ever seen Charlie Brown? He’s a character from Peanuts (with Snoopy the dog), and his schoolteacher is indecipherable; you can’t understand a thing she's saying. All you hear is: “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.”
When I was in elementary and junior high that's exactly what my teachers sounded like to me. It was like they were speaking a foreign language. My teachers would say things to my parents like: “Kendra isn’t perceptive in class, she daydreams all the time and struggles to grasp most of the content. It’s strange, because all of her homework is done fairly well and yet she’s failing every test.”
Luckily for me I had very supportive parents who also noticed my tendency to struggle with schoolwork, so they started taking steps to figure out what was wrong.
Getting diagnosed with a learning disability
At the end of grade nine I was diagnosed with a learning disability: ADD—attention deficit disorder—the type I have is specifically a processing disorder. That’s why all of my teachers sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher to me. The way they were giving me the information was not the way I needed to receive it.
On top of that I was also diagnosed with anxiety. That’s why all of my homework was done well: I could take the work home, teach it to myself in an unpressurized environment, at my own pace, with no time constraints. But when you give a kid a test, especially a kid with anxiety, that's a recipe for disaster. I’d have a panic attack before the paper even hit the desk.
Struggling with ADD in high school
When I was in school the whole “tailor your teaching style to fit the individual learner” thing was just coming into the education system and people were only beginning to understand how to support learning disabilities. I didn’t have a lot of help and there weren’t a lot of resources for me.
Going into high school I was still trying to understand what having this learning disability meant, especially when I was dubbed as someone who “didn’t look like” they had a disability.
In my first semester of high school I took Science 10 (there was no Science 14 back then) and I failed with a 49%. So what do you do if you fail a course? You re-take it. So second semester of high school, I went back into Science 10 and just barely passed with a 51%. That basically sums up what my high school education looked like. I was a high 50s, low 60s kind of student, just getting the grades I needed to scrape by.
How I improved my grades
It wasn’t until Grade 12 when I had both a tutor and a biology teacher with learning disabilities that I started to figure out how I learn.
When I started working with these two individuals I had a 60% average. In one year, just by changing the techniques I was using to study, my average went up 10%. I graduated with a 70% average because I started utilizing strategies that enhanced my ability to learn.
For example, did you know that we all have a learning colour? Mine’s pink. If I write with a pink pen or on a pink piece of paper, or if I take a pink transparency and put it over my notes, I'll remember the information 80% better than if it’s on a regular white piece of paper. A lot of peoples’ learning colour is blue and yellow; my sister’s is olive green.
Also, flash cards. Flash cards are my jam! If you give me a whole chapter of notes, I panic. But if I put that information onto flash cards, having to read and write it as I do so, it becomes easier for me to understand and remember the information because I can colour code it and turn it into a game or story, which is more interesting and not nearly as intimidating.
There are all sorts of strategies and tools we can use to enhance our ability to learn. By trying a few, I realized that thinking "math just isn't my thing" or "I'm no good at science" wasn't true at all. I just hadn’t been using the proper strategies I needed to learn in those courses.
Upgrading at Centre High
After high school all my friends went off to university and college. My mom was the first person in her family to ever get a degree so she was very adamant all three of her children would do some form of post-secondary education. Being the oldest child with no other role model than my mother, I figured university was the way I was supposed to go.
When I started looking at my options my average wasn’t high enough to get into any of the programs I wanted. What do you do if your grades aren’t good enough? You upgrade!
After high school I went to Centre High, an amazing institution in Edmonton that allows students to do a fourth, fifth, or even sixth year of high school. This is awesome because it allows students an affordable option without returning to their old high school or attending a public college. As well, Centre High has a bunch of free resources available for students to access: free tutors, academic strategists, and career advisors. I took advantage of all of them.
I basically re-did Grade 12 while also working and travelling, so I not only grew academically but gained personal and life experience as well. When I left Centre High after that one year, my average was up 26%. I had a 96% average. It was so high I got a $2,000 scholarship when I applied to university.
ADD didn't stop me from achieving my goals
So why tell my story? Well, in Grade 12 I was told by my Social 30 teacher I would amount to nothing, I would never be successful in any sort of formal education, and that I should go and get a retail job … and now I’ve just graduated from my second degree. So it goes to show that whatever academic goals you set for yourself, no matter what they are, you can reach them because of the resources that are available in our province.
Whether you need financial assistance (which we all pretty much do), academic assistance (which again, we all basically do), or personal assistance, all of those resources are there for you. So what are you waiting for?
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