Andrew Gray delivered an honest, humorous, and heartfelt presentation to Carroll’s Faculty and Staff during Carroll’s opening assembly. The following excerpts highlight the pain of Andrew’s academic struggles and his extremely ‘inventive’ younger self. Throughout his chronicle, Andrew delivers poignant messages about how Carroll School profoundly changed his life.
“I was thrilled when Headmaster Wilkins invited me to speak today. I was asked to speak on the question of why what you do here at Carroll is so critically important. …I am a Carroll alum and was a member of Carroll’s first class of students here on the Lincoln campus. …I was one of those kids who had the potential, without notice, to introduce an element of spirit-crushing misery to your day.
This is the original final report from my 5th grade year, my first year at Carroll. I quote from Mr. Smith’s and Mr. Davis’ comment: “Andrew has worked hard and has made a spectacular effort and has had great success. And, it has been several months since we have seen one of the disastrous days which seemed to plague Andy earlier.” Wow. And I remember myself as such a charming, easy kid. I do remember some of the disasters. I remember cleaning a space by putting a rubber inner tube over a lamp to get it off the floor. The fire department came and went, but the smell of burnt rubber lingered for a long time. …
Perhaps my best work was in the woodshop where I grabbed a full gallon of stain and started shaking it vigorously. Unfortunately, the shop teacher had already done this and loosened the lid in preparation for the class. He unfortunately, was standing directly behind me when the lid came off. He did look magnificent in mahogany brown. I think that I spent a lot of time tooling leather with a different instructor after that episode.
But they stuck with me, and the non-reading 5th grader departed at the end of the second year reading at a college level and transitioned into public junior high school. I am sure that many were relieved to see me go. I only hope that they also took pride in what they had wrought with their effort, patience, and fortitude. They certainly changed my life.
We often say that educators like you “save lives.” This always struck me as a bit inaccurate as it under estimates the inherent creativity and drive that so many of us dyslexics have. I like to think of what you do as “making lives” and I would like to share a little of the life I have been able to make because of Carroll School.
This is a picture of my wife Yukiko. I met my wife, Yukiko, at Middlebury College. We have been married for 27 years and have two kids, 21-year-old Marie Atsuko and 19-year-old Paul Kenichi…. my marriage and kids are the most important things in my life and I would not have this life if Carroll school had not taught me to read. Middlebury College, can you believe that? That certainly was not on my life menu when I failed kindergarten and the teacher told my mother that I would never graduate from high school.
I have a master’s degree from Columbia University. I learned Japanese. I worked in Japan for 7 years, and I had gross profit responsibility for a $500 million business unit for a manufacturing company. Early in my career, I taught high school physics and chemistry. At Wooster School, I am the Business Manager and part of a team building a new school for kids with language-based learning disabilities. …I have been blessed with a career full of adventure, excitement, and worthy work. There are two points of genesis for the life I have made: First, my parents who fought for me and got me to the Carroll School, and second, the folks here that taught me to read and gave me the tools to be a successful student.
Beyond the profound difference you make in student’s lives, I hope that you all realize that you are pioneers and are on the cutting edge of education. Imagine a world where the tables are turned. Imagine a world where the kids with language-based learning differences were in the vast majority and the traditional learners were a small minority. What would happen to that minority in this imagined world? The simple fact of the matter is that they would thrive. What is good for LD kids, is good for all kids. …The reality is that the tools and strategies that you develop to educate Suzie or Bobby in the coming months, are tomorrow’s industry-wide best practices. The differences you make have the potential to reverberate beyond your classroom and students.
So my advice to you is to have fun, work hard, and be great. There is nothing more important than what you do every day. I am sure that there will be moments, and perhaps even a student like myself, that will give you pause and struggle, but shoulder on. You do important and worthy work.
Finally, I hope that you know that you are honored. You are honored not just by your leadership, your board and the families of the students you teach. Most importantly, you will be honored every day by the generations of kids whose lives you have and will touch. Mr. Davis and Mr. Smith are in my heart every day as I know you will be in the hearts of your students. You never forget the people who helped you make your life.”
In general, I often look back on my time at Carroll as vital turning point for me educationally. Before beginning there in the 2nd grade, I remember the feeling of so few things making sense at school and the shame that made me try to hide this. In first grade, I remember memorizing a short book in order to fake reading and hiding my math workbook, successfully I might add, for half the year. In my childhood memory, coming to Carroll made me feel like less like a shamefully dysfunctional person, not only did I learn to read, but I learned I was able to learn. I learned I was valuable and capable.
After Carroll I still struggled in school, but I made it through. I’m now in my 3rd year of a clinical psychology doctoral program at the City University of New York. Most of my work and training is in doing psychotherapy with children and adolescents, but recently, I also completed my first psychological/educational testing for a child with learning disabilities (LD). All of the professionals that I coordinated with on this case expressed to me in one way or another that my report was extremely well integrated, communicated clearly in plain language, and most importantly, expressed who this child was as a whole person.
While I feel a bit shy boosting myself up this way, I mention it because I told each person the same thing: I know what it’s like to be a child who fails at her main job, meaning school, and to be misunderstood as dumb or lazy. The ripples of being learning disabled extend beyond school and into the child’s own self representations of being able, smart, and good. The interventions I received at Carroll gave me so much more than the basic educational skills for my future, they taught me I could learn and do, even if it was slower or different from others. Teachers at Carroll allowed me to borrow their faith in me until I learned to have faith in myself. Without this, I doubt I would have the courage to strive as I do now.
When speaking with John Defina, his energy and enthusiasm for being an educator, a reserve officer in the Air Force, and a father are striking and his accomplishments after graduating from Carroll are truly inspiring.
Prior to entering Carroll in the 6th grade, John recalls, “…I was behind by at least two grade levels and my educational foundation was rocky. Gerry Wile, my 6th grade math teacher, taught me to face my fears about learning, believe in myself as a student, and learn that I could tackle anything.”
After completing the 8th grade at Carroll, John entered the Waltham High School, and in the fall of 1991, became a student at Bentley University. Four years later, John garnered a M.S. in Business and Marketing and he pursued a career in sales for several years. Then at age 24, John joined the military and became a trained Emergency Medical Technician. During his service in the military, John decided that he wanted to pursue a career in education. John dove into his new career as a teacher in the Chelsea High School, and for the past nine years, John has been teaching history and math in the Brighton High School.
John brings his first-hand knowledge of being a different kind of learner into his classrooms. John’s understanding that students have strengths learning in various ways – by using their visual, oral, or reading and writing skills— and his sensitivities to their challenges, helps him to promote successful learning. John’s desire to advance his skills as an educator motivated him to achieve two Master’s in Education degrees—achieving his first M.Ed. in Special Education with a concentration in History at Suffolk University and his second M.Ed. in Special Education from UMASS/ Boston.
Always one committed to the service of others, John entered the Reserves of the United States Air Force and, in 2004, John was called into active duty in Kuwait where he served in the Medical Service Corps taking care of wounded soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently, John is a Major in the 439th ASTS Medical Unit at the Westover Air Force Reserve Base in Western Massachusetts.
Today, John’s pride and joy are his family—his wife, Terri, his 3-year-old son, Ryan, and his 6-month-old daughter, Melanie. Last year John and his family moved to Waltham, and believe it or not, Carroll’s Lower School Bounders’ classes often take place in the woods behind his house! John will tour our Lower School campus this winter and visit Gerry Wile teaching a 5th grade science class. We look forward to welcoming John again to our school!
After Tyler’s graduation from UVM, he spent six years as an Emergency Room nurse at the main hospital in Burlington. Then he decided to enter Medical School with a wife (also a nurse) and three children!
We are proud to say, and you may be happy to know, Tyler has placed in the top 20% at the Pikeville School of Osteopathic Medicine. Tyler will graduate in May. As a practitioner in the Emergency Room he is without equal, given his ER nursing experience. And recently, driving back to Kentucky with his family, came upon a horrendous head-on crash scene—he immediately took control, and stabilized the life of one of the crash victims. When the ambulance arrived, they just followed Tyler’s crisp orders.
We are very thankful for the on-going work of the Carroll School, and delighted to help others.
My husband, Paul, and I attended the special guest program at Carroll as grandparents. We are in awe of the program you presented and the methods used in teaching our grandson. We were moved to tears, both of us, by the progress our grandson has made in word decoding, spelling, pronunciation … and so moved by the incredible focus that our grandson and his teacher, Ms. Powell, had to employ to do the work. We loved the art lesson: decoding the face! … We are impressed by the professionalism of each staff person, the humility and cohesiveness of the faculty as a whole. As former educators, we are pretty attuned to the process of education… we are aware of the learning style, but completely unprepared for the excellence we encountered from the moment we stepped into the gym. THANK YOU for inviting us and for literally saving our fabulous boy. He can now have the opportunity to access all the information he is so enthusiastic to learn!