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The "Difference Makers"

Hailey Brinke attended The Learning Center from pre-school to 8th grade. I have incorporated her own words heavily throughout her story, for she shares best the "difference makers" provided through her years on our campus and the long-term impact of the Community of Learners with which she has remained connected in many powerful ways.

I asked Hailey if she were willing to openly discuss her learning challenges. She graciously provided the following:

"A pivotal moment in my life was at TLC in second grade, when my teachers Mrs. Stephanie Hopper and Ms. Martha Abad, realized I learned and experienced the world differently from my classmates. In first grade, I had struggled with paying attention in class, sitting still, and completing tasks at the same pace as my classmates. In second grade, my teachers advocated for me and encouraged my parents to have me tested for learning disabilities. I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), delayed processing disorder, and severe test anxiety the summer between second and third grade.

The Learning Center teachers banded together to support me and adapted their classrooms to my newly identified needs. Mrs. Chris Conroy and Mrs. Cheryl Catuto allotted me time to spray peppermint essential oil to refocus, encouraged a stop sign on my desk to remind me to pay attention, extended time on tests, and, additionally, Ms. Shelley worked with my parents to establish a high protein diet, assuring I got what I needed from the inside out."

The Learning Center teachers modeled what accommodating and accepting education looks like, always willing to change their teaching approach to meet the needs of their students, always going many steps beyond the typical to assure learning. This support was crucial to my growth and self-awareness as a student, providing me with the experience to look back on and seek a similar environment in my high school and college experiences. These educators encouraged me to become my own best advocate. I sought out extended time on tests and timed assignments. I found the additional needed support as I grew in awareness of my internal experiences that caused me to excel throughout my education."

As I continue to interview students in this quest to chronicle the many stories that tell The Learning Center story, I remain in awe of the "sense of community" that so many share:

Hailey continued with these poignant words. "I met my best friend and 'second family' of 14 years, at TLC. I met Kiki in third grade after having her mother (Ms. Martha) as my teacher along with Mrs. Stephanie in second grade. All three still work at TLC, and I keep in touch with them regularly. The Learning Center facilitated one of the strongest bonds between Kiki’s family and mine, a connection which I have not experienced with anyone or anywhere else. The school has this wonderful way of building connections and community amongst its members, one where no matter how long it’s been or where you go, you always remember each other."

"After graduating 8th grade at TLC, I attended and later graduated from Murphy High School (MHS). During my time at MHS, I was the first MHS student to complete my Associate’s Degree through dual enrollment at Tri-County Community College. After graduation in 2018, I attended an undergraduate program at Berry College, which I graduated from in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pre-Counseling Studies, a degree I created with the help of some fantastic advisors. Currently, I am in graduate school at the Western Carolina University program in Asheville, North Carolina. I plan to graduate next December (2022) with a Master of Arts in Education with dual licensure in K-12 school counseling and as a Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate. I have maintained a 3.6 - 4.0 GPA throughout the three colleges I have attended, making the Dean’s List at Tri-County and Berry. TLC taught me the value of small schools where educators can provide individualized support and education, heavily influencing my decision-making regarding the educational institutions I attended. TLC’s model has given me the additional ability to help others find the right fit in terms of continuing education and careers."

"My goal is to build a career as a high school counselor, aiding students in preparing for college and careers and building self-knowledge, awareness, and healthy coping skills. TLC taught me the importance of a school community, patience, and support, which I hope to carry into my work as a school counselor. TLC modeled how to take risks in terms of education, not be afraid to speak out for what is right, be a student advocate and ally, and see students as individuals with differing needs and experiences. "

"I always remember The Learning Center's involvement in the community with river clean-ups, field trips supporting and educating about different local businesses, Monster Mash, and the Christmas parade. Reflecting on my time at TLC as an adult makes me realize just how much influence the school, its teachers, and their unique approach to education had on my view of the world, life goals, and values. I know how and what to advocate for in a school system with students who need those different learning approaches, supports, and community involvement because I witnessed my teachers and school do it with me. I will forever be thankful for my time at TLC as I learned how to care for myself and how to help others as I acquired the tools needed to be successful with my life goals."

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