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A Starfish Story

March 11, 2012

By Kylie Cannon, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Broadmoor Middle School

One of the hardest things about working in a public middle school is letting go of the things you can’t control. There are going to be students who come to school every day with problems you just can’t solve. My starfish today is one of these students.

Collin* was held back in the fifth grade after he failed to pass the LEAP test. He stayed there until his school decided that he was too old to be in elementary school, and Collin was promoted to the seventh grade. Collin tries harder at school than most of my other students combined, but his learning disabilities are so crippling that he has failed to score above “Unsatisfactory” on a single test this year.

Collin has severe short-term memory problems, the result of getting hit by a car when he was younger. Collin and I will talk about composite shapes for an hour and a half on Wednesday, but come Thursday he tells me he’s never heard of composite shapes before. At home, Collin has a mother who loves and supports him, but his mother does not want him to be stigmatized by enrolling him in Special Education.

I have often been at a loss as to what to do with Collin. Though he’s never been a behavior issue, I find him one of the most difficult students to work with. In these past few weeks, however, I have finally made some progress with Collin. The way that I have done this: drawing. Whenever I can show Collin a way to solve a basic math problem through drawing a picture, he can find the correct answer. Two weeks ago, for the very first time, Collin was able to sit down at the beginning of class, take out a pencil, and complete over half of the day’s warm-up by himself using the picture-drawing strategy we’d come up with.

I know that this is a short-term solution to a larger problem. Pictures are not always going to be a reliable way to solve math problems. And even using our newfound strategy, Collin did not pass the EduSoft Unit test. Nevertheless, I chose Collin as my Starfish today because even after failing time and again, Collin can find it in himself to attack new problems with confidence and hope. I think that we all have something to learn from him.


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