One size does not fit the educational needs of all students

In response to “Comparison Misleading” that appeared in The Advertiser-Tribune March 22 by Matt Wolph, director of North Central Academy, I have an answer to his question as to why students are leaving Tiffin City Schools and seeking their education elsewhere. Simply, if students do not fit the cookie-cutter model of a student, Tiffin City does not want them and does everything it can to help them out the door.

My son, Richard Spencer, was a student in the Tiffin City system until he was midway through his junior year.

Along the way, Richard had some very good teachers. Janet Zirger knew exactly how to handle my son’s needs without humiliating him. Linda Moore was fabulous in how she encouraged him. Cassandra Collar was Richard’s HEIGHTS teacher. (Yes, my son had an IQ of 141.) She had a wonderful way about understanding the different ways in which people learn. Additionally, my friend Bert Hawk, who has been with Tiffin City for years, was one of my son’s fabulous educators. I have witnessed him interact with students and, quite frankly, I cannot think of a more devoted, caring person to help guide our children.

Isn’t it sad that I cannot name more than four teachers who made a positive impact on my son in his 10 1/2 years in the Tiffin City system?

I am certain there are many more fabulous educators in the Tiffin City School system. However, there are many, many more who would just rather not be bothered past the ideal “shape” of a student. My son actually had an elementary school teacher tell him she could not understand why he was in HEIGHTS! Really? How is that OK to try to beat down the self-esteem of a child?

Assuredly, my son had his faults – his issues, if you will. Through the years, he was in more than his fair share of legal trouble. I do not know for sure, he may have had some mental illness. He was never diagnosed with anything more than depression. But, I challenge anyone to find good, mental health help for a child in this area. It is a joke, a total run-around with a goal of draining one’s insurance coverage but that is another letter.

Before going any further, I would like to say there is no excuse for bad behavior, even in the event of mental illness. I was the first person to hold my son’s feet to the fire when he was in the wrong. I was the one to turn him in when I suspected he was involved in something illegal. But, there were times when clearly he was not in the wrong. For example; he was given detention for giving the “black-power” sign, of all things, at the end of the school day. Picture it. A little (elementary-aged) white boy, joyfully coming out of the school building at the end of the day, throwing his fist in the air as if to say “yeah!” and given a detention for giving the “black-power” sign, something he had no idea even existed. Crazy, right? And so, the label is applied.

My son made a name for himself early on. With that name, he lost all hope of redemption. It got to a point where he could not sneeze without being accused of something anything. While Richard was in the work program where he went to school part of the day and a job for part, he was at his locker a couple minutes after the time he was supposed to leave for the day, in order to retrieve an item for his job. The school actually called the police!

The final day my son was enrolled at Tiffin City, I had a meeting with a school official to try to work on a plan of action for my son. During the meeting, I mentioned my son was a suicide risk. I felt that information was important. I thought they should know this was not just a case of someone behaving badly. I thought they would take the information seriously. I thought wrong.

I will only say the reaction I received was less than professional. It was at that moment I knew we were clearly done with Tiffin City Schools. I enrolled Richard in the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. He had little hope of ever graduating and never would have, had we stayed with Tiffin City. He was severely deficient in credits to be halfway through his junior year. However, my son not only graduated through ECOT, but on time and with very good grades!

I had the awesome opportunity to attend ECOT’s graduation ceremony in Columbus. This was their fourth graduation class since it started. The first year, it had fewer than 20 students graduate. Popularity grew for ECOT, in those four years, to more than 1,000 graduating students that year. It was emotionally overwhelming to see the faces of all the students that day, knowing if it were not for ECOT, they probably never would have graduated. They were beaming, every last one of them!

Over the years, I have been involved in different programs for “at-risk” youth. If you ask me, I say we are ALL at-risk. Some have better opportunity than others. Some have not found the opportunity that fits. I have been a mentor for “Real Friends Mentoring.” I have mentored at North Central Academy during its early years. I have led a Bible study at our county Youth Center. I have had the opportunity to talk with these kids one-on-one, to relate to them, to hear them. They are human.

Scott Urban and his cohorts ought to be thankful for alternative learning programs for our children who don’t fit the cookie cutter instead of making incomplete comparisons. Every learning situation provides great services to different sects of students. No one program can provide effectively for all. There is no shame in that.

Tiffin City had no idea how to tap into the awesome facets of my son. Richard was a fabulous musician. He wrote songs. He was caring to those around him. His faith was so very important to him. He had a different way of seeking and seeing his world. He was a problem-solver – not just a problem. Richard Spencer was so much more that Tiffin City Schools will ever know.

In closing, if you are wondering what ever happened to Richard Spencer, he died more than four years ago. He was 21 years old. It was at his own hand, by the over-use of alcohol. I don’t know if a better-suited learning environment would have changed his fate. But, I am so thankful for the work that is being done at North Central Academy and programs like ECOT. Through their efforts even if one child’s life is changed for the better, it is so very much worth it. Thank you, Mr. Wolph, for the work that you and your staff are doing at North Central Academy.