The Path to Success (Is Paved with Mrs. Flowers' Cookies)

by Linda and Robert Walker, TJS Alumni Grandparents

Our grandson Sterling Gillman was a frustrated five-year-old struggling to learn in a traditional school setting. Thanks to a stroke of serendipity, his parents learned that The Joy School might provide the ideal environment to help him deal with his reading and attention difficulties, and they quickly acted on that advice.

The Child We Used to Know

Robert & Linda with Sterling at TJS, November 2009Within just a few months after starting Mrs. Jan Flowers' kindergarten class (where he sampled a few plates of her chocolate chip cookies), we witnessed a remarkable change in Sterling's demeanor. No longer was he a frustrated, almost angry, young boy burdened by a significant reading difficulty; he instead blossomed into the happy, cheerful child we used to know. This was the start of his path to success, guided by the dedicated, compassionate and loving teachers and administrators at The Joy School.

Using their diagnostic and assessment skills, TJS staff identified both Sterling's strengths and weaknesses. They quickly developed a plan to teach him to recognize and accept those same strengths and weaknesses and to become his own best advocate. At the same time, The Joy School was a loving, accepting daily environment for Sterling.

Building a Foundation

Over the years, we have seen him grow academically and emotionally thanks to this environment that embraces differences. A place where students are taught to take risks because there is always an opportunity for a second chance when they make a mistake. These simple life lessons provided the foundation for who Sterling is today.

For example, he often demonstrates a desire to help others, an attitude which was no doubt fostered during his years at TJS. During the past four summers, Sterling participated in the Appalachia Service Project, whose vision is to eradicate substandard housing in impoverished areas of Central Appalachia through volunteer home repair.

Sterling's path was not easy. He attended TJS from kindergarten through eighth grade, which is longer than the typical transition period. It took a while to address his reading and attention difficulties and to balance them with his maturation and the understanding that he had to be accountable for himself. This could only happen in a patiently loving and caring environment like The Joy School.

Self-Confidence, Self-Esteem and Accountability

Although he had positive experiences with all his TJS teachers, Sterling has often credited Mrs. Flowers with getting him started in the right direction; Mr. King, his middle school English teacher, with refusing to allow Sterling to avoid his own personal accountability for his educational development; and Mr. Christou, his middle school science teacher, with stimulating his interest in science. It turns out that physics was one of Sterling's favorite high school subjects.

In May of 2017, Sterling graduated from high school at San Marcos Academy, whose student body is significantly multi-cultural. His core group of friends reflects that diversity, just as the diversity of The Joy School student body demonstrates the openness and accepting environment of the School, which molded his values system. Although he never participated in any organized programs until he entered high school, Sterling made All-District in basketball this year, an achievement which, in our minds, is clearly the result of the self-confidence and self-esteem he gained at TJS.

This fall, Sterling plans to enroll in a local community college in San Marcos while he takes a year or two to decide which educational path he wants to follow. From his summers volunteering on construction service projects, he has become intrigued with the idea of pursuing construction management as a career.

Mission Accomplished

Mission accomplished. No matter what vocational path our grandson chooses, we are convinced he will be successful and that his success will in no small part be attributable to his years at TJS. As grandparents, we are profoundly grateful he found his way to The Joy School. And to this day, he still maintains that there are no better chocolate chip cookies than Mrs. Flowers'.The mission of TJS is as follows: The Joy School prepares students with learning differences to return to traditional classroom settings by enabling them to reach their academic and social potential in a safe, supportive environment.

For all the gifts Sterling received from TJS, it has been easy for us, as grandparents, to give back to the School and its students. We were Grandparent Chairs on the Annual Fund Committee and served on the Key to the Future Capital Campaign Committee. Bob previously served on the Board of Trustees (acting as Building Committee Chair for the new campus construction) and will again be a Board member in August of 2017. We continue to make these gestures with the utmost joy.

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