Finally Heard, Understood & Supported: Danny’s Story

Finally Heard, Understood & Supported: Danny’s Story

The trouble began for Danny Neds in the fourth grade. An excellent student, he routinely earned great grades and loved to learn. He wanted to participate in his public school’s Challenge Program, but unfortunately, the lengthy test taken on a computer ended in a good result, but not good enough to qualify. “I wasn’t a good test taker,” Danny says. His mother, Annie, expands on that. “We suspected he was dealing with dyslexia, but he wasn’t diagnosed.”

The Neds family tried to go through the school system to get Danny assessed, but because of his strong grades they refused. Danny, then, was stuck. Because he was not allowed access to the diagnosis that would show his computer test result was not due to a lack of academic ability, he remained outside of the Challenge Program for the rest of the year.

The summer after fourth grade, the Neds decided to take matters into their own hands and have Danny tested at their own expense. The team at Vive came back with an official diagnosis—just as they had suspected, Danny was dealing with dyslexia, and that dyslexia made tests taken on a computer difficult for him.

Armed with this new information, Annie approached Danny’s fifth grade year hopeful that changes could be made to support her son. A meeting was set up to create an IEP for Danny. Red flags flew when it appeared Danny’s new teacher was irritated at the prospect of simply meeting to discuss Danny’s needs. The school did not seem to understand where Annie was coming from. “They kept asking me what else I wanted from Danny, as he had always gotten good grades. I kept trying to explain that this wasn’t what I wanted from Danny, but for Danny.”

The clarification fell on deaf ears, and Danny suffered through a fifth-grade year that saw him frequently coming home in tears. Not only was no help made available for Danny, but he found himself routinely belittled by his teacher. “She made me feel horrible,” Danny says. Despite many attempts at improving the situation by the Neds, the school was uninterested in advocating for Danny.

The Neds had enough and turned their focus on how to make things better for Danny in middle school. Prince of Peace had always been on their radar, so they sat down with then principal Mr. Cunningham. “He was so warm and personable,” Annie says. The Neds felt like Prince of Peace would provide the right environment for Danny. Even so, there were plenty of anxieties for Danny as the first day at his new school approached. In particular, Danny feared a significant workload without the needed support.

Mitigating that anxiety was the welcoming flexibility of the middle school team. In stark contrast to their previous experience, the Neds found special education teacher Ms. Pfaff and all the sixth grader teachers happy and willing to come up with an SAP to meet Danny’s needs. Finally, the Neds felt heard, understood, and supported.

At the beginning, Annie sensed that the teachers were giving Danny space, allowing him time to warm up and feel comfortable. The slow approach worked, and Danny started to realize he was finally safe at school. “I felt like I started becoming more like myself,” Danny says. As Annie witnessed Danny’s progress at Prince of Peace, she realized just how much confidence he had lost while at public school.

Initially, Danny went to Ms. Pfaff’s quiet classroom to take tests, but as he blossomed at Prince of Peace, he found the additional support was no longer needed. When asked what made the difference, Danny says, “Feeling emotionally supported by the teachers,” to which Annie adds an enthusiastic, “Yes!” When it comes to the academics, Danny says, “I not only feel challenged enough, I feel supported enough to rise to the challenge.”

While the Neds family has always been active in their faith, they also appreciate the bolstering of their spiritual life provided by Prince of Peace Catholic School. “Father Smith gives a very good homily,” Danny says, while Annie comments on how much she appreciates the time and attention each student receives in their spiritual formation, citing an experience where Father Smith and veteran altar servers spoke to Danny about that service, giving him a deeper understanding of that role.

When asked what advice Danny would give a fifth grader attending public school and contemplating a change to Prince to Peace, Danny says, “I would tell them, ‘Just be yourself. You’re able to do that at POP.’ Really, it’s one of the best things about it.”

Written by Carrie Adams-Young

Fostering Success for Students with Learning Differences

Fostering Success for Students with Learning Differences

John and Adrienne Haverland have five children and a lot of homeschooling experience. So, when their daughter Evelyn was headed toward second grade, they felt confident a dyslexia diagnosis was on the horizon. At the same time, a change in life circumstances opened up the possibility of sending Evelyn to a Catholic school, something they desired if homeschooling was no longer an option.

After Evelyn began second grade they discovered something they didn’t anticipate—a great deal of flexibility and the willingness and ability to accommodate Evelyn’s educational needs. “Even though we didn’t have the official diagnosis yet, they trusted us and our assessment of Evelyn’s needs,” Adrienne says.

Evelyn was enrolled into Mrs. Smith’s second grade class, where the Haverlands found a teacher ready to help. Adrienne continues, “Mrs. Smith met with me several times and was so open to collaborating in order to help Evelyn succeed.”

While the Haverlands and Mrs. Smith continued to investigate the best ways to help Evelyn, the family pursued getting a diagnosis. As they had anticipated, Evelyn was found to be dyslexic. Fortunately, Prince of Peace and the Haverlands had already been providing the intervention needed to create a great outcome for Evelyn.

Adrienne is grateful Prince of Peace listened and collaborated. “I don’t think very many schools would have been so flexible and understanding,” she says. “Most kids when they begin testing for a learning disability have had noticeable difficulties in the classroom, poor grades and oftentimes emotional stress that accompany these challenges. The interventions provided by Prince of Peace allowed Evelyn to continue to be successful despite her struggles.”

As Evelyn entered third grade, Prince of Peace had a new way to support her learning—the addition of special education teacher Ms. Krista Pfaff. “Evelyn loves Ms. Pfaff! I love Ms. Pfaff!” Adrienne enthuses.

Evelyn spends fifteen minutes every day with Ms. Pfaff and receives accommodations according to her SAP. Adrienne is quick to note, however, that her daughter is never made to feel different from the other kids. “They don’t treat her like a child with dyslexia, to them she is just Evelyn,” Adrienne says. “Having your child seen for who they are and not what they are is a level of care that makes Prince of Peace unique.”

While Prince of Peace’s acceptance of learning differences and its ability to support those students is a key feature in what John and Adrienne like about the school, they also are grateful for the faith formation at Prince of Peace.

“You never have to worry about what is being taught. You can trust the religious education completely,” Adrienne says. “And religion isn’t relegated to just one subject that they’re learning. At Prince of Peace, faith is brought into everything, and it’s nice that at home we can build upon what is already being instilled into them.”

The faith formation at Prince of Peace is one of Evelyn’s favorite aspects of her school. When describing what she likes most about Prince of Peace, she says that she loves weekly Mass. She is also quick to describe her affection for the teachers, saying, “Everyone really cares about me. Everyone is just really kind.”

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Finding the Right School Environment for Alfie

Finding the Right School Environment for Alfie

“When there is something wrong with your kid, it’s all encompassing,” Arielle Lindner says, expressing a feeling about which far too many parents can relate. In this case, David and Arielle Lindner’s only son Alfie had rapidly changed into a child so unlike the one she had been raising, she knew something was amiss—and she was determined to get to the bottom of it.

“I really do believe God gives us the children we are supposed to have,” she says. Arielle has a degree in medical anthropology, which not only studies medicine throughout history but is also a comparative study of the practice of medicine across cultures, giving Arielle the background she needed to tackle the problem at hand.

In Alfie’s case, his usual behaviors had given way to hyperactivity and the feeling of emotional overwhelm, particularly after the school day was through. Hearing issues had also come to the fore, beginning with a six month stretch of deafness. The family had moved from New Jersey to be closer to David’s mother, who had moved to South Carolina and had then been widowed. They chose a Montessori school nearby, primarily because of one particularly gifted teacher.

By the time the Lindners had gotten to the bottom of the mystery, they knew they were dealing with the aftermath of a medical adverse event and a son who was not thriving at his unstructured school. The teacher that had drawn them to the school in the first place was no longer there, to boot. Very importantly, they knew they wanted a Catholic school that would provide Alfie with exemplary faith formation. They set forth to find a school that would provide that formation, accommodate special needs, and offer strong structure.

David and Arielle began touring Catholic schools in the Upstate. “When we got to Prince of Peace, it was just an instant, ‘Oh, this is it,’” Arielle says. Prince of Peace had recently hired special education teacher Ms. Krista Pfaff, and the support she offered for students with special needs, offered a key part of the puzzle. It was obvious the school had the sort of structure Alfie needed, and “we love Father Smith,” Arielle says, complimenting his vision for the school and his strong leadership.

While the Lindners had high hopes for what the school would do for Alfie, the reality exceeded their expectations. “Instead of him getting into the car after school upset, he gets into the car and says, ‘Today was amazing!’ or ‘I love Mrs. Avery!’” Arielle says. “At first I was like, ‘Really?’ I couldn’t believe it!” But now, well into his 3rd grade year, Alfie’s newfound love of school has become normal.

The three things the family had hoped to find—faith, structure, and support—have been provided in abundance by Prince of Peace Catholic School, and Alfie is thriving.

In a final confirmation that Alfie is exactly where he should be, Arielle shares a story about her mother-in-law, who works at Hamrick’s. Over the summer, a group of women came in, looking for a certain skirt in black. When different colors were offered, the women explained they were nuns—no other colors were needed. Alfie’s grandmother excitedly told them about her grandson, who would be going to Prince of Peace Catholic School. The nuns eagerly absorbed the story and reached out to Arielle. Throughout the year, Arielle has provided the nuns with updates about Alfie’s progress at Prince of Peace, and the nuns have kept him in their prayers. “If you’re looking for a sign he’s in the right place, I can’t think of a better one than that,” Arielle concludes.

Starting POPCS in 5th Grade, A Student Thrives

Starting POPCS in 5th Grade, A Student Thrives

During the dog days of summer, Isla Young found herself feeling something completely new—excitement about the return of school. It would be her second year at Prince of Peace and her first as a middle school student. “I just can’t wait for school to start,” the 12-year-old said repeatedly, somewhat to the surprise of her parents, David and Carrie Young. To say that Isla’s feelings were not nearly so positive the year prior would be a huge understatement.

Having attended public schools her entire life, Isla was devastated by the prospect of the upcoming change. A member of a Baptist church in Greer, Isla had only occasionally attended Prince of Peace, and Catholicism was largely foreign to her. She did not like the idea of uniforms, new rules, private school, or leaving all her friends behind. However, her parents decided a change was necessary. Isla’s grades, sense of self, and her understanding of the curriculum, necessitated a drastic intervention.

Today, Isla has advice for any public student who is transferring to Prince of Peace. “Don’t be afraid,” she says. “When I found out I was going to Prince of Peace Catholic School, I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. But once I got into my classroom, everyone was so welcoming.”

Looking back at her time in public school, Isla now recognizes how much she was struggling. “The teachers would tell you what you would be learning that day, and then put you behind the Chromebook and you were left to basically teach yourself.” Prince of Peace teachers, Isla says, “are creative. And they care whether or not you understand, and they want you to ask questions. If you don’t understand, they work with you until you do.”

In addition to engaged teachers, Isla has benefitted from being held accountable. “At my old school, I never did my homework,” she confesses. Of course, the changes in Isla’s study habits didn’t happen overnight. “If you don’t do your homework at Prince of Peace, they care. Mrs. Marlar had to take me out into the hallway two or three times, and it was so embarrassing! But she wasn’t mad at me, she asked why I hadn’t gotten it done, and what could we do so I wouldn’t forget. She helped me.”

David Young says he feels far more confident about Isla’s future now that she has embraced her education at Prince of Peace. “I was fearful she was getting lost,” he says. “Now she has a much better outlook toward school and life in general.” David, who is Baptist, also appreciates his daughter’s Catholic education. “It is important to me that she is surrounded by Christ-loving students and a positive environment. Public school was a mix of influences, many of which I found concerning.”

Isla has also come to enjoy the religious education found at her Catholic school. Not only does she feel that the spiritual structure at Prince of Peace improves the learning experience, as it fosters discipline and good work habits, but that the focus on faith leads to an overall wellbeing. “When you walk into Prince of Peace, everyone is happy,” she says. There is a feeling of safety she did not have in public school.

As it turns out, the sixth grader has a special affection for Latin—something she would never have anticipated a year ago—and often says the blessing before the family meal in Latin. “Getting to learn a new language has been fun!” Isla enthuses. She is excited to branch out in the future, with the goal of mastering Spanish and French.

A creative person with a natural aptitude for visual arts, writing and music, Isla had historically found math to be a tough subject. This was borne out by her MAP scores at the beginning of the year, which found Isla in the 57th percentile. She had quite a hill to climb in mathematics. But climb it she did, with Mrs. Marlar’s help. The end of the year MAP test saw Isla had risen to the 87th percentile.

“It is so important for students to be known,” says Isla’s mom Carrie. “At Prince of Peace, Isla came to be known by her teachers, who cared deeply about her success, and because they cared, so did Isla. I cannot imagine a greater gift than to instill a love of learning, and I believe that is the gift Mrs. Marlar gave to Isla.”

When asked to think about what life would be like had she continued in public school, and never gone to Prince of Peace, Isla pauses for several moments, then says, “Honestly, I’d probably be pretty messed up. How do I put that into words?” When it is suggested that she just did so, Isla nods and gives a thumbs up.