Taylor Heffner is the winner of the Georgia 2011 RISE Scholarship Foundation, Inc., award. Taylor’s accomplishments are quite impressive. He maintained a high GPA at the Howard School, played varsity soccer, participated in track and field, and organized school volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. He has volunteered for many Atlanta service projects including Trinity Soup Kitchen, Open Door Community, Atlanta Community Food Bank, and the Atlanta Humane Society. Taylor will attend Andrew College in the fall.
Taylor’s positive attitude about his learning differences has enabled him to excel. He wants other kids to know that“The most important thing to remember is that this is just about the way you learn. You still learn, and you are just as smart and capable as everyone else, plus you will find that you have a lot more common sense and problem-solving abilities than most people.”
Kids Enabled presents Taylor’s success story:
Kids Enabled: What were your biggest struggles growing up? What were your toughest challenges in the classroom?
Taylor Heffner: My biggest struggle inside and outside of the classroom is understanding what is being explained or taught. I have come to understand that with some things, I need a great deal of repetition in order to fully grasp a concept. So I may have to ask for multiple explanations so that I can hear them in different terms and make practical connections. Because I didn’t want to feel different from my peers, who understood on the first go round, it took a while to become comfortable and realize that it is ok to ask questions.
KE: How old were you when you were diagnosed with a learning difference? What is your earliest memory of struggling in school?
TH: When I was in kindergarten my mom realized that I was learning at a different pace than my classmates, but the teacher reassured her that with time, I would catch up. She didn’t feel comfortable with this response and started some research on her own.
Looking back I can say my earliest memory of struggling with school came during the first months of first grade. I hated going to school. I would wake up during the middle of the night on school nights not feeling well and crying not to have to go school. I couldn’t really articulate what was going on, but I knew I hated it. Luckily, I had a very caring speech teacher who had seen and heard the way my teacher interacted with me and alerted my mom, who immediately met with the principal and pulled me out of public school. I went back to kindergarten at our church preschool and kindergarten where my mom was the director. I loved it there and started to enjoy school again. This gave mom a chance to continue researching learning differences and to find a school that would better fit my needs.
KE: How did your challenges change as you progressed through elementary, middle school, and high school?
TH: The following year I started school at Mt. Carmel Christian School. They had small class sizes, caring teachers and their philosophy was that we are all unique gifts of God. There I could continue to learn in a safe environment. Even though they did not have a specific program for students with learning differences, they did offer extra help for students that needed it. After much research Mom felt like I was probably dyslexic and found the Schenck School, who after testing confirmed the diagnosis. That was in second grade. I tutored there two times a week for a couple of years and stayed at Mt. Carmel through fourth grade.
It was such a struggle to keep up academically. I would come home from school and work on homework and study for tests for hours each day. I did well but it was incredibly hard, time consuming and frustrating. Mom realized I needed more specialized help where I could learn about how I learn so that I would be successful in the future. Luckily, we found The Howard School.
KE: Were there any particular interventions or teaching methods that helped you make gains academically?
TH: At The Howard School, teachers utilized different teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles. They taught me how I learn best. I learned that the more I can use my senses, the easier it is the comprehend things. I record my classes on my computer as I take notes so that I can go back and listen as I read. I also found that I retain more if I physically manipulate the material around, so I will print my information and move it, matching things up. When I was in elementary school I would practice spelling using shaving cream on the shower door or in a sand table. It was fun and actually let me touch what I was doing.
KE: Did your struggles ever cause your self-esteem to suffer?
TH: I think the only time my self esteem suffered was during those first few months of first grade. I was fortunate that my parents supported and encouraged me, and that they put me in schools that were good fits and helped me. My parents have also encouraged me to try new activities, exposing me to a lot of different things, so that I could find where my gifts are talents are.
KE: Do you feel prepared to go to college?
TH: I just graduated from high school and feel totally prepared for college. I know that it will be a huge transition in terms of expectations, work load, and being away from home, but I feel I have all the necessary skills to make it work. I understand that I will have to study harder than most of my peers and continue to find ways to make difficult classes more understandable. I have learned that perseverance pays off. I have learned that most worthwhile things in life do not come easy; you have to work at them. Because of Howard I have the confidence to advocate for myself and understand how important it is to do that.
KE: What advice would you give to parents of children who struggle with learning challenges?
TH: Advice that I would give to parents; love, support and encourage your child. He or she learns differently, but they still learn. It will take patience; you will often need to repeat steps in many different ways and you will need to be their advocate until they learn to advocate for themselves. It can be tough on your child’s heart and mind realizing that he is different from his friends, that things don’t come as easily. I also realize from my parents that it is hard on them, too. They have hopes and dreams for us. Together we can make those dreams come true; we will just go down a different path to get there.
KE: What advice would you give a child who is struggling in school?
TH: To a child struggling in school, who may be going through the diagnoses process or is newly diagnosed, I would tell him that it is not the end of the world; actually, it is a new beginning to learn how you learn. There are many successful people out there who have learning differences and you will be one of them too. The most important thing to remember is that this is just about the way you learn. You still learn, and you are just as smart and capable as everyone else, plus you will find that you have a lot more common sense and problem-solving abilities than most people.
- It is important to build strong relationships at school with your teachers. They want you to succeed and will help you to figure out how to do just that, if you show them that you are willing to work hard.
- Perseverance is a word that you will learn, and it will stick with you all of your life. Sometimes you will find that no matter how hard you study and prepare for a class, you just don’t get the results you wanted, but the ability to shrug it off and keep going despite the challenges will take you far in everything you do.
- Also, there are many assistive technology resources available now to help you with school work like computers and special software programs.
- Another valuable resource is your parents. I have been lucky to have extremely supportive parents to help, encourage, and guide me through the years. Parents are always on your side, and remember, they know you better than anyone. They can help you learn different ways to study. For me, the more hands on the better.
Remember, each of us is a unique gift from God. You have many talents; push yourself, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone to find them. You will have a successful and fulfilling life.
KE: Is there anything that you would do differently or think should have been done differently for you during your childhood education?
TH: As far as anything being done differently during my earlier education… I wish that all teachers understood that students don’t all fit the same mold, but that we have the desire and right to learn in a safe environment. I also wish that all teachers had the resources, knowledge, and desire to learn how to make a difference in our lives.
KE: How do you define success at this point in your life?
TH: Success at this point in my life means being happy, healthy, being loved and loving back, sharing my talents with others and on my way to a positive college experience!
The RISE Scholarship Foundation, Inc. has a mission to recognize and reward students with learning disabilities, who have overcome learning challenges, achieved academic success in their formative school years and will continue their educational journey by pursuing an undergraduate degree at a college or university. For more information about RISE Scholarship Foundation, Inc. please visit risescholarshipfoundation.org.