Wesleyan student excels after overcoming learning disability

Dec. 09, 2012 @ 01:00 AM

When Holly Schallert came to Wesleyan Christian Academy six years ago, she carried with her a lot of baggage.
Learning-disabled.
Dyslexic.
ADHD.
Strong-willed.
One teacher had even suggested – when Holly was only in first grade – that the girl’s career options were, shall we say, limited.
But when Holly, now an 18-year-old senior, leaves Wesleyan at the end of this school year, she’ll carry with her a hard-earned diploma, multiple awards – academic and otherwise – and, if Becky Owens is right, probably a college scholarship, too.
Owens, director of Wesleyan’s Enrichment Center for learning-disabled students, still remembers what a troubled young girl Holly was when she came to Wesleyan in sixth grade.
“Holly’s reading level was very low,” Owens says. “She was a little resistant to teaching, because in a small student environment, you can’t get by with anything. You can’t get by with guesswork. And so if Holly made a mistake, her teacher would make her go back and correct that mistake, and Holly didn’t like that – Holly wanted to move on.”
But when Holly finally got it? Boy, did she move on. Last year, as a junior, she was named a junior marshal, and this year she’s academically among the top seven students in a competitive senior class.
“She’s taking two AP (Advanced Placement) classes and two or three honors classes, and she had straight A’s for the first nine weeks,” Owens says. “That’s pretty incredible.”
Holly’s story is an example of what can happen when educators, parents and students – even a strong-willed, learning-disabled student – work together.
“It’s definitely a team approach – parents, the student and the teachers,” says Holly’s mom, Ruth Schallert of Greensboro. “Parents cannot just plop them down at school and say, ‘Here, fix them.’ ”
According to Ruth, Holly was diagnosed with a learning disability when she was in kindergarten, after she had struggled to get any kind of a grasp of reading.
“I knew Holly was a bright little girl,” Ruth recalls, “but she wasn’t reading. All the other children that she played with were at all these advanced reading levels, and she couldn’t even recognize letters and put them with sounds at the time, so I knew something wasn’t right.”
Holly didn’t find the help she needed in the public school system, and continued to struggle at a private school. She remembers being singled out and sometimes made fun of for her learning disability.
“It was frustrating,” Holly says. “I really didn’t like being different from everyone else.”
It wasn’t until she was in sixth grade, when she came to Wesleyan for its Enrichment Center, that things began to change.
At the Enrichment Center, which offers student-teacher ratios as low as 5-to-1 – and sometimes even individualized lesson plans – Holly began to blossom. By eighth grade, she had turned things around and wanted to transition into the mainstream student population at Wesleyan for high school.
“What we usually do is have them mainstream one course at a time, but Holly wanted to mainstream totally, and we didn’t think she was quite ready for that yet,” Owens recalls.
Holly persisted, though, finally persuading Owens and high-school principal Tim Rickman to give her a shot. She’s never looked back.
Owens remembers hearing that Holly had been named a junior marshal – “I practically jumped up and down,” she says – and she reminded Rickman of the conversation he’d had with Holly a few years earlier. He, too, was delighted with her accomplishment.
It didn’t happen without hard work, of course.
“She’s worked very hard,” Ruth says. “She’s very dedicated to study and do what she needs to do to make good grades.”
Now, she’s trying to get into the industrial design program at North Carolina State University. It’s highly competitive – only about 30 percent of applicants are accepted – but Owens says Holly has a great chance to make it.
“She’s come so far from where she was,” Owens says. “I’m sure Holly is going to receive academic scholarships. Her future is very bright. She’s obviously worked very hard, and she has so much potential.”
jtomlin@hpe.com | 888-3579