Making Confidence Part of the Equation
by TJS Alumnus Ian Williams
Ian Williams has come a long way since he was a sixth grader at The Joy School, and he's about to go even further. Ian just graduated from Post Oak High School and is about to embark on his college career in another state. At this turning point, Ian reflects on his journey from a struggling math student at TJS to an aspiring artist on his way to college.
Numbers are a struggle for me – they have been since I was in kindergarten. Equations just did not compute. My kindergarten teacher was very supportive, but I sensed her confusion when we'd work on math.
She did not understand why I could not grasp numbers. This was especially confusing because I had such a strong handle on reading, writing and art. My teacher told my mom about my struggles, which led to flash card drills at home. Even with practice, my math homework just didn't click. This trouble understanding math stayed with me throughout elementary.
By fifth grade, I started to consider looking for another school. I was being tutored for one hour a week in school and had another tutor after school. My mom and I searched for a school to accommodate students like me who have learning difficulties. That's when we found The Joy School.
A Welcoming Feeling
On my visit day at TJS, I remember walking up to an old house next to a red dirt field. Mrs. Leslie was at the front desk. I took the stairs up to a room where Mrs. Bumgarner interviewed me. I was really nervous, but she asked comforting, easy questions: How old are you? What do you like to do? Then she slowly eased into questions about learning disabilities. I explained that I have never been good at math.
After the interview, it was time to shadow a class. I was nervous about bullying, but everyone was nice and welcoming. That's the main feeling I got from TJS - welcoming. We decided not to visit any other schools. My mom and I were thrilled when I was accepted to TJS!
A School for Kids Like Me
Even though I was glad to be accepted to TJS, it's scary going to a brand new school. Once I walked into Ms. Sorensen's class on the first day of school, that fear vanished. She had a soothing, calm, welcoming presence. I wasn't scared anymore. She made me feel at ease.
I had Mr. Christou for science. He's very different from Ms. Sorensen! He was outgoing, loud and funny. I was shy, so at first it overwhelmed me. Eventually, though, he helped draw me out of my shell. His mixture of humor and patience made science so much easier. He was especially patient with me when it came to science that involved math. In fact, he was my math tutor before I even started at TJS.
Then it was time for math class. All I could picture was the stereotypical math teacher – just a big, tall, scary person who is super smart and does not have time for me. I did not understand yet that I was in a school for kids like me who need a little more time. My math teacher, Mrs. Nichols, was nothing like I imagined. She was so nice. She went back over lessons even if I didn't ask her to. Even when I needed it explained a third, fourth or fifth time, she never lost patience.
The next year I had Ms. Matlage. It was easy to connect with her as well. Even though I wasn't in her class anymore, Mrs. Nichols would check on me. It showed she cared. I knew my mom and friends were invested in my success, but having a teacher who cared gave me the boost of confidence that helped my motivation.
year I had Ms. Matlage. It was easy to connect with her as well. Even though I wasn't in her class anymore, Mrs. Nichols would check on me. It showed she cared. I knew my mom and friends were invested in my success, but having a teacher who cared gave me the boost of confidence that helped my motivation.
An Education of Understanding
In addition to boosting my confidence, The Joy School taught me it is okay to be different. It is okay to acknowledge my disabilities while I work on managing them. TJS is different from other schools.
No one is shunned. No one is "the slow kid." Everyone is there because they need help in certain subjects, so students do not make fun of each other. TJS gives kids an education of understanding.
Coming to Grips with Math
After a few months at TJS, my mom asked, "Have you improved yet? Can you see a difference in your math skills?"
I didn't feel it then. What I did notice was a huge change in my confidence. That played a big part in my ability to come to grips with math.
After struggling at my old school, my confidence level was zero. I learned to grin and bear it just to get through class. I pretended to understand.
What's special about The Joy School is everyone looks at each other as equals, so kids don't have to pretend.
Students know they are at TJS because they need help learning a specific thing. No one's learning disabilities are hidden. In that way, students can connect with each other. The classes are not easier than at other schools, but there is a strong support system. That makes a huge difference. While there was no immediate change in my math skills after starting at TJS, I felt ready to take on high school math by the time I left.
Not Giving Up
The confidence I gained at TJS stayed with me as I transitioned to Post Oak High School. Math is still a challenge. Post Oak has several math levels. I remember my first high school math class.
It made absolutely no sense. My teacher pulled me aside and said, "I notice you're struggling. Maybe you should go down a level." I was so relieved to make that move. It was a good change.
While I am better than I was at math, I still struggle. I accept that my basic aptitude for math will never really change, but that is no reason to stop trying and practicing. There are just certain things I will not understand at the same level as other kids, and that's okay. There are things I understand that they may not. While some of my peers are great at math, my passion has always been art.
Finding My Voice Through Art
Since I was little, I enjoyed drawing. I always appreciated good art. As a kid, I picked the book with the coolest cover. As I got older and read books without pictures, I imagined the way the characters spoke, moved and dressed, and I started drawing them from my imagination. I moved on to drawing people in-person, and then, finally, drawing from memory. It was a bit frustrating at first when I started taking art seriously. Capturing the human form exactly the way I wanted was hard, but I kept trying.
After taking courses at Post Oak High School and Glassell Junior School, I began to understand the purpose of art. It's like a voice box for me. I love symbolism. Visual art is a new way to express ideas. At first I was nervous and a little insecure because certain things did not come naturally to me, but just like with math, I kept trying.
The work paid off. I was accepted to my top three college choices: Savannah College of Art and Design, Pratt Institute, and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). I'm excited to start my college career at RISD later this year!
Even though I am going to art school, I am not done with math yet. A lot of art colleges urge students to take finance classes. They want to make sure artists can be both financially and artistically successful.
I would like to work for a company like Disney, Marvel or DC instead of freelance. I know I will have to work very hard to get there. There will be a lot of steps between now my dream job.
Fortunately, thanks to my education at The Joy School and Post Oak High School, I have the skills I need to get there.