Recently, our middle school students had the opportunity to attend our first in-person middle school meet-up of the year, a nerf war, on the TJS playground. Middle school meet-ups offer students the ability to practice social skills in a fun, real-life way, so it's a true JOY to offer these events in-person again. Read through this Q&A blog post with Program Director Elyse Trusell to learn more about the unique benefits of our middle school meet-ups for students, how we're keeping students safe at these events and plans for future meet-ups.
My daughter Alex was struggling in school, and I was searching for answers. It started in first grade. It didn’t seem like she was retaining the information. Something was off, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. I had two older kids, and she needed more time than them. She had a lot of trouble reading. It was hard to see her struggle. Alex was aware that she was struggling – there were some peer challenges going on that she was sensitive to. It left her wondering why she couldn’t read.
A Quest for Answers
We tried the eye doctor, but her eyes were fine. Then I figured, maybe she needs some supplemental help, so we started going to tutoring after school twice a week. I was taking off work to bring her, but we weren’t getting the results we needed. It was a stressful time.
I saw Alex’s self-esteem going down. She’d say, “I don’t want to go to school. Can we do something different?” She didn’t feel like she could learn. She told me, “Maybe I just can’t do it.” I felt pain hearing her say that.
Alex is very wise and intuitive. She observes and picks up on a lot of things that most people don’t pay attention to. I just wanted her to recognize that everybody doesn’t learn the same way. Learning differently doesn’t mean you’re unworthy.
Eventually, her tutor suggested we go to the University of Houston and have her tested there. Dr. Jerome Rosner, co-founder of TJS, did the testing. We finally learned what was going on: Alex has dyslexia.
Getting the dyslexia diagnosis helped me a great deal. It was something we could overcome. It would never go away, but she could work around it.
A New Beginning
Dr. Rosner suggested we visit The Joy School. I did the tour and observed the teachers in action. I liked it because it was much smaller than her previous school. It seemed like a family atmosphere.
Then Alex spent a day at TJS. It just seemed like the atmosphere was nurturing and supportive. There wasn’t the imposition of time on learning. The class sizes were much smaller, so there was more hands-on activity and attention for individual students. For Alex, that was a big deal, because somewhere along the way, she lost a sense of self-esteem. She needed some nurturing. And not just from me.
Alex started at TJS in fifth grade. Being around kids who also had different learning styles made her recognize that, while she learns differently, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. She would just have to be aware of how her learning differences affect her in work and school environments.
After Alex’s first full year at TJS, I really saw a difference. She was developing friendships. She had one friend the whole time at her other schools. She was making friends and seemed excited about coming to school. It wasn’t, “I don’t want to go,” anymore. She especially liked some of the activities that supplemented the educational experience. They went to museums – school outings. It was a lot more hands-on.
The teachers showed genuine interest in Alex’s learning. They wanted to make sure that I understood what was going on with her every step of the way. They offered support for her that another child may not need, and vice versa. It was very individualized. Before TJS, Alex’s teachers didn’t recognize that she had a learning disability. They were interested in teaching to the test, not the child.
Skills for Life
One of the most valuable skills Alex learned at TJS is organization. She learned to plan ahead, not wait till the last minute to try to get things done. These skills were huge – they showed her she could get things done. The research papers Mr. King assigned showed her that she could do research papers – not only at TJS, but also in high school.
Her progress didn’t stop there. Alex came out of her shell at TJS. Before The Joy School, she wasn’t very talkative. She kept to herself. She felt inferior. To witness that reversal was huge as a parent. Alex learned to use those communications skills to advocate for herself.
When she started high school, and later college, Alex let teachers and administrators know about her learning differences, and provided whatever paperwork necessary to get the accommodations she needed. For example, she can’t do scantrons, so she always had someone to proctor tests. Her English teachers understood that she needed access to audio books whenever possible.
Life After TJS
At first Alex was scared to move on to St. Pius X High School. But she faced her fears and took that step gracefully. After high school, I told her she shouldn’t stay so close to home because it would limit her outlook and perspective. I didn’t think she would want to leave Houston, but was glad when she chose the University of Texas at San Antonio.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, I was shocked, but proud that she wanted to go to Seattle for grad school! I’m so grateful that Alex now understands she can make it. She can do anything she chooses.
She just graduated from Seattle University with her Master of Fine Arts in Art Leadership. For her final main project, she chose to provide relief to the caregivers of children at Texas Children’s Hospital. She interviewed someone at the hospital who indicated that they have programs for the kids, but there’s no relief for caregivers. Parents never wanted to leave their child alone. So Alex sought to come up with an activity the caregivers could enjoy right in the patient’s room. She came up with an art coloring book for adults and started a Go Fund Me to finance the project. It’s called “The HeART of Texas – A Coloring Book By Texas Artists”. More info
Don’t Rush the Journey
One of the biggest pieces of advice I have for parents of kids with learning differences is to pay attention to the little things. Does your child see the same information you do on a page? Does she skip over words? That may indicate you have a problem. Not a bad problem, but a problem that has to be considered. Explore different learning environments to make sure you get the right fit for your child.
If you’re thinking about checking out The Joy School, know that they’re a great group of people who are concerned about students on an individual level. They want to make sure your child can assimilate, not only at TJS, but in the world as a whole. Don’t get anxious. Be patient through the process. It will be a journey. You can’t rush it.
Read Alex's story: An Educational Journey from TJS to Grad School