Matthew entered The Learning Center! Charter School in 2nd grade. In a short time, and through many assessments, our teaching staff began to take in the educational challenges this young man faced. Mixed in with the academic labels of not being on grade level in core subjects, with both learning and speech disabilities, we began to discover a personable, curious personality with very limited ability to respond either verbally or in writing. However, his eyes and smile proved worthy guides in that first year on our campus as our staff became determined to find ways into his young mind.
Sometimes a lesson was as simple and focused as introducing one word and diving deep into that single meaning. Matthew recalls fondly when he mastered the spelling and recognized the word strawberry in print as Ms. Gail worked to capture and transfer all its delicious and colorful suggestions. His responses and reactions became more obvious. This young man was taking in the possibility and power of words.
During our interview Matthew made it clear that he had a driving reason to share the details of his challenges with learning. " I want kids like me to know they can do. Yes, it will require daily work. I want any and all to know that you can and will accomplish your goals" no matter the obstacles."
I personally had the privilege of teaching Matthew in Writing Block as he entered the middle school. The process of turning his words into complete thoughts took time. We started with a subject and then added a verb. His smile bowled me over when I started working with him to flesh out these very basic components of writing. Initially I wrote the sentence out for him. He would then copy it over and over as others worked on paragraphs and full papers. Matthew filled with pride and possibility as his words came together into meaning. By the time this amazing, unique learner left my writing class in 8th grade, I was scribing three to five paragraph papers for him. In 8th grade, he passed an End-of-Grade test for the first time. These over-the-top milestones strengthened our school's resolve in education to meet every learner at his or her growth point where possibility and potential would soon emerge.
Murphy High School and a mother dedicated to her son's progress saw this educationally disadvantaged student grow and excel in amazing ways. Words still took work, but soon turned into presentations. Photography became Matthew's outlet. Confidence grew with the strength added through his new-found medium. Telling his story and capturing his thoughts and ideas through pictures grew potential in profound ways. Pride swelled in the hearts of the greater Community of Learners when Matthew was accepted into Art Institute of Atlanta where he would win the highly-competitive Portfolio Show based on a compilation of all graduates' work throughout their time in college. A BFA in Photographic Imaging set Matthew on a forward path with his future.
Matthew laughed as he shared the real-life education that came from moving to Atlanta versus life in the small, rural mountain town he had always called home. From Atlanta, Matthew tackled life in another city, Denver. Lessons learned from these two very different populations molded and shaped him in many ways. As a mixed-race person growing up in a rural setting where the bi-racial population is small, cultural diversity intrigued him as he continued to learn and develop these entrepreneurial skills: management and problem-solving. Through this time of big city culture exploration, the camera in his hand and the camera in his mind continued to capture the next step forward.
Life's circumstances have recently brought him back home. Matthew readily gives his mother the credit for always devoting her life and energy to him. In turn, he is dedicated to now finding ways to give back to her. Entrepreneurship and the digitally-driven work world that came out of COVID combined with problem-solving: Matthew 7:8, a business name that captures his birthday and a favorite Bible verse, will feature a clothing line in neutral and earthy tones focused on body positivity.
Matthew shared that Ms. Emily, one of his 6th grade teachers at The Learning Center, had told him that one day he could grow up to be a clothing designer. WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE ABOUT EDUCATION: A teacher's words are a powerful tool. Choose them wisely. Planting a seed of possibility in the mind of a student just may grow into a well-rooted tree.