From a Grandparent: Hill Teachers Make the Difference
Gary Whitfield knew first-hand the struggles of a learning-challenged child. As a public-school educator for 35-plus years, Whitfield saw countless students fall through the cracks, unceremoniously losing their hard-fought battle to attain success. So when his grandson Chase began exhibiting signs of dyslexia and struggling in elementary school, Whitfield spotted the issues immediately–and made it his mission to save the incredibly bright little boy.
It was heartbreaking to see him,” Whitfield recalled. “He would roll up on the floor and say, ‘I can’t do anything. I’m dumb. My brain doesn’t work.’”
Normally an outgoing, precocious child, Chase became reserved and withdrawn.
“He said no one liked him at school, and his twin brother even noticed his classmates not treating him well,” said Whitfield, who started visiting the school daily, watching Chase’s actions and interactions and taking copious notes. “Numbers totally confused him, and he couldn’t do the basic rudiments of math. The school wanted to hold him back in first grade… We thought we were losing him–a child who enjoyed life so much and had so much insight into the world.
Then in March 2006, Whitfield had an epiphany. After seeing an ad in the local newspaper about Hill School, he scheduled a visit with then- admissions director Judy King. “As Mrs. King and I were talking in the hallway, a student approached her and asked if she had seen her new drawing on the wall,” said Whitfield, adding that King then excused herself from the discussion, walked directly to the drawing, looked at it and hugged the student. “And that was it for me,” he said vehemently. “I knew exactly where Chase needed to go.”
Coming to Hill has been life-changing for Chase–he loves his teachers and his classmates, has many friends and has experienced many successes. “His teachers have totally transformed Chase; his whole demeanor has changed,” Whitfield said. “He’s scoring A’s in class and is brimming with self-confidence.”
What sets Hill School apart from other learning institutions? Without a doubt, Whitfield says, it’s that the faculty and staff just “get it.”
“You’ll know if Hill is right for your child as soon as you walk through the door because the people there have it,” he said. “And if that needs no explanation, then Hill is the school for you.” Chase, now a senior at Hill School, and his grandfather are pictured above.
Breanne, Class of 2009
Hill School’s wonderful teachers showed me that I could achieve success in school, love learning, and that English and Literature could be my favorite subjects. I am a dyslexic and dysgraphic English major with a writing minor at Midwestern State University with plans to pursue graduate studies.
Marilyn, parent of Cooper, Class of 2009
Hill School is not a magic bullet. It didn’t make Cooper’s learning differences go away. The faculty at Hill School taught Cooper that he needn’t be defined by his learning differences. He is smart. He is capable. He is responsible for his own success or failure.
From a Parent of 2010 Hill School Graduate
It was during my son’s 9th grade year at a college prep private school that we became aware of his differences. Teacher conferences revealed problems with organization, inability to focus and frequently being distracted. He struggled with his studies and social issues. We were advised he would be better in a different environment, but his teachers strongly suggested that public school would not be the solution for him.
At this point, we were only given information on what my son could not do. He would never be able to do this or that. Never were we given any hope as to what he would be able to achieve. He had lost confidence and felt alone.
So we were lost and devastated, not knowing where to turn. I had heard of Hill School in the past from a friend whose son had attended. Not knowing much more, we made an appointment, toured the school and enrolled for the fall semester.
My son adjusted and flourished in the smaller environment. Yes, children learn in many different ways and at different levels. Some are slower and need more time to complete tasks, some do not. Some learn from reading, some learn from listening. The teachers at Hill School demonstrated an ability to determine how best our son could learn alleviating many of his frustrations. He was given the opportunity to help younger children with their reading only giving him more confidence. He made friendships he has to this day. He is in community college and has worked the same part time job for two years. All things we were told he would not be able to achieve.
So, we will always be thankful to Hill School, its teachers and staff who supported him in a positive and encouraging manner. And more importantly, did not focus on what he could not achieve, but what he could and did achieve.
From the Parent of Analise, Class of 2011
Our daughter, Analise joined Hill School at the beginning of the 7th grade. The decision for Analise to attend Hill was the best decision that could have been made for her. Hill School has been a blessing. She loved all aspects – the classes, the sports, the teachers, and the students. Hill School is a community. It is such a nurturing environment for students who learn differently. Each child has a difference, so nobody is different! Each teacher was a positive experience. That is not always the case, but it certainly is at Hill. It is evident that the teachers care about the students – you can see it in their participation at events and through their willingness to work with them. Hill has so many special events that Analise will treasure all of her life – Sophomore Portfolio Night, Junior Ring Ceremony, and the Senior Showcase. These evenings helped us all learn and care about each student. Thanks to Hill School, we know that Analise is prepared for whatever she faces in the future.
About Blake – Living the Hill School Philosophy
Part of the Hill family since third grade, Blake is a shining example of how a once-struggling student can conquer his learning differences and rise head and shoulders above the crowd.
As an elementary-aged boy attending public school, Blake “couldn’t understand what was going on,” he said. Every day was a challenge. Finally, Blake was diagnosed with ADHD, and his first-grade teacher recommended Hill School as the perfect educational solution for this intelligent little boy who grappled with an inability to reach his potential. As soon as he enrolled at Hill, his life changed for the better, and he continues to praise his alma mater for helping him attain success.
“Everyone knows you–knows who you are–and you don’t have to try to be someone else,” said Blake, who volunteers as a youth counselor at St. Matthews church and plans to work in the radio/TV/film industry after college. “The kids and adults are nonjudgmental. Plus, it’s such a small school that you become friends with new people almost immediately.” An active participant in extracurricular pursuits, Blake played basketball and football at Hill. He was also involved in the Hill drama department.
Although he’s gained a spate of self-confidence and immeasurable real-world skills, Blake says that his passion for perseverance is a direct result of his years at Hill, and the wide variety of academic and extra-curricular experiences he’s had here. “Just because things don’t go the way you want them to immediately, doesn’t mean they won’t eventually work out,” he said, noting that it’s important to realize that life can lead to good things if you’re willing to work for them. Case in point: Blake says it’s “amazing” how much his understanding of math has grown. And his weaknesses? “They at first seemed like they would never be resolved,” he said, “but now I can see them becoming strengths.”
Blake also is quick to recommend Hill to students who struggle with their differences and feel hopeless, helpless and alone in their current educational environment. “If you really want to learn about life and know that you can learn in the right environment, then Hill is for you,” he said, noting that Hill staffers are not only well-equipped to help students learn, but they also are adept at stimulating within them a lifelong love of learning.
“Hill teachers know how to inspire kids to do their best,” he said.
About Chaney, Class of 2010
Teachers at my old school said I’d never make it to college. I had epilepsy, and even though I’ve had no seizures since my surgery in middle school, the epilepsy created holes in learning, and it was difficult to keep up with my class. Since coming to Hill in eighth grade, I have come so far! I read a lot better, I understand my strengths and weaknesses, and I know when to ask for help. Homework is much less stressful than it used to be, and my parents, who were as frustrated as I was, understand how to help me now. I love to play golf, and last spring I placed eighth in a large state tournament with 1000 girls! I want to go to college on a golf scholarship, then to law school. Maybe I’ll be a pro golfer someday, too. And by the way, my teachers at Hill say I’m perfectly capable of making a success of college!
Update: Chaney recently shared her college experience at a Hill Alumni Panel for current upper school students and parents at the Fort Worth campus. She is currently at the University of Central Oklahoma studying hard, earning good grades and playing on the golf team. Chaney is currently ranked #6 in the nation.
From HelenAnn Gray, Retired Hill School Teacher
Seeing students transform keeps me motivated. One of my favorite stories is of Lindsey, a girl who walked into my room for the first time, uncertain and fearful, convinced she was a failure. But in my class, Lindsey discovered she has a gift for writing. Now she’s a college graduate with a great career, doing what she loves–writing! It’s inspiring to see children find value in themselves. Once you value yourself, you don’t need to be told you can do things–you know it. I can’t imagine a teacher becoming stale. Every year is different. Every year you start fresh with new kids, and that’s where the magic is. Your students won’t remember you for the knowledge you gave them. They remember you for the way your lives touched–for the moments, the stories, the connections you made with them.
About Jessica: Independence and Achievement
At a public elementary school Jessica was often in trouble with teachers for inappropriate playing or talking, Jessica felt her inability to read was her fault, that she just couldn’t learn. At home, she relied on parents’ help with everything–especially homework. Her dyslexia interfered with all aspects of her young life. After coming to Hill School as a sixth grader, she learned to work with and around her learning difference. Not only could she read–she willingly read aloud in class, a major feat for anyone with dyslexia. Jessica sought out other challenges as well. Her athletic talent put her in the state TAPPS tennis doubles tournament her freshman year. As a sophomore, a biography she wrote won her a state Kiwanis scholarship. Jessica described herself as more independent and more able to meet life–on her own. Dyslexia, though a challenge, would not prevent her achievement.
Update: Jessica completed her studies at the University of Southern Oklahoma in December of 2012 with a major in recreation studies. Over the summer breaks from college, she worked at the Y and traveled to Costa Rica. She stays in touch with Hill School on holidays to keep us updated!
About Madison: An All-Around Great Sport
Volleyball star Madison made the 2008 all-district first team and the honorable mention state team. Madison has attended Hill since sixth grade–and has loved every minute of it. “I’ve learned to persevere, not to give up and to listen to the people around me who are helping and supporting me,” says Madison of the learning strategies she’s gleaned since enrolling at Hill. Playing volleyball has–quite literally–served Madison well, she notes. “I was never into sports until I came to Hill, and now I love them,” enthuses Madison, who also is a member of the basketball team and a cheerleader. “Playing volleyball teaches you how to communicate and work with all types of people.” Those skills, Madison says, are like gifts that just keep on giving.
“I have ADD, and everybody knows it,” she says with a good-natured giggle, noting that assignments were overwhelming at her previous school and teachers didn’t explain them the way she needed, which made learning a real struggle. “I’m not the type of person who can learn after just one explanation,” Madison says. “I need at least two or three!”
The teachers at Hill, she says, do whatever it takes to ensure their students understand and retain the information presented. “They are so helpful and really care about us,” explains Madison, a sweet-natured, gregarious girl whose favorite subject is English.
Her genuine affection for her teachers, her friends and the entire Hill environment is obvious: “It truly has become my home away from home.”
Madison’s homework hints: “I’m very busy, so prioritizing and planning ahead is key. Whenever you have a spare moment, try to get something done. And think about the consequences of not getting your work done. Also, when I get home from school, I relax first, eat a snack and then do my homework.”
About Summer Ball: A Full-Circle Success
Struggling to stay afloat in her studies, Summer Ball felt alone and ashamed, the little self-esteem she had continuing to crack amidst the relentless pressures facing her at school. Finally diagnosed with dyslexia in 1990, the frustrated fifth-grader enrolled in Hill School–and that’s when a world of exciting new possibilities opened for her.
“I can’t tell you how much it helped, walking into a building every day with faculty, staff and classmates that understood what you were going through,” said Ball, who attended Hill through the seventh grade, before Hill High School opened. “You didn’t hide from your disability–you learned to embrace it and at times you even forgot it was there. I got to be a kid again and be successful in school.”
Previously withdrawn and unmotivated, Ball underwent a breathtaking transformation. Not only did the former C/D-student start earning all A’s and B’s after her first nine weeks at Hill, but she also found an enriching slate of life-altering activities in which to participate. From dressing up for Halloween and “attempting to hold Mrs. Boon’s class snake” to attending the groundbreaking of the new (current) building and rooting for the Hill basketball players as a member of the cheerleading squad, Ball finally found her place–and she found it at Hill.
“All of these memories are special to me,” she said, “because they represent the time my life changed, the moments that I learned to love school, the part of my life where I found my self-confidence–all of which led me to where I am now.”
And where she is now is teaching elementary resource, content mastery and inclusion. After graduating from Texas A&M University with an undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies and a master’s in educational psychology, Ball became a special-education teacher, tapping her experiences at Hill to positively impact her students and model for them why the learning process is something to embrace and not to fear.
“Hill School helped me find my self-confidence and overcome something that I didn’t think was possible to overcome,” she said. “And it also taught me to love learning.”
From Betty Whitham, Parent of Tate and Tanner
Tate and Tanner were doing fine in public schools, but we sensed that Tate, who has a nonverbal learning difference, would do better in a smaller setting. Tate and his first teacher at Hill School really formed a bond. And because of Tate’s experience, Tanner decided to come to Hill as well. They both loved the small class sizes where they could really focus. They were learning how to learn, instead of just going through the motions. And everyone had a vested interest in their success. Both boys are so much more confident now in their learning abilities, and comfortable with their learning styles. I like how my kids developed academically, socially, and emotionally. They learned that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses–what matters most is how a person handles them. There is no doubt in my mind that Hill School contributed immeasurably to each boy’s personal growth.
Today, both boys are leading exciting lives. Tate graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in University Studies with a focus on history, personal financial planning and integrated studies. Tanner graduated Summa Cum Laude from Southern Methodist University and recently earned his masters in Theology from the University of Dallas. Tate is busy planning an epic cross country journey/drive-about and plans to head out this spring; he is aiming for Canada and Alaska and will make many stops along the way, including Steubenville, Ohio, where Tanner now lives with his wife. Tanner works at Franciscan University and he and Whitney are expecting their first child in April.