Student with Learning Disabilities Rises to the Top of Her Class

learning disabilities


Human Services major Jennie Friedman finished degree requirements in December of 2013 and, with a GPA of 3.99, was named valedictorian of the Beacon College class of 2014, an honor that she calls “surreal.” Jennie had a tremendous impact on the campus community, and even though she has been gone just one semester, her presence has already been missed. She has, however, left a lasting impact.

Jennie entered Beacon as a transfer student, which is not uncommon. Many Beacon students have tried mainstream colleges first and found professors who were either uninterested or uninformed about how to accommodate for students with learning disabilities. Support services are also not as easy to find and navigate. Jennie attributes much of her success at Beacon to the fact that she was offered the support that she needed to excel.

[Find more opportunities for a degree in Human Services.]

Like many other students who achieve academic success, Jennie’s confidence in her abilities has grown substantially, and she has learned new skills for adapting for her learning style so that she is comfortable attending graduate school at a mainstream college. She is currently enrolled at Webster University, working toward a master’s degree in counseling, with a plan to specialize in treating young people who have eating disorders. At Beacon, Jennie learned strategies that are now helping her thrive in an educational environment that does not specifically cater to students with learning disabilities. She knows that she has to be assertive about her needs and that she also has to know how to help herself. For instance, since assignments are not broken down for her in graduate school as they were at Beacon, she has to do this for herself, knowing this is what will make major projects more manageable for her.

When Jennie was at Beacon, she not only worked on strategies for herself, she also helped her peers, passing along lessons that she had learned. One of her major accomplishments on campus was developing, with learning specialist Laurie Staiger, a structured science study group that met once a week. When the group was first formed, Jennie was enrolled in the science group, and she was initially hesitant about taking a course in science. It was not her best subject, and she was concerned that her GPA may take a substantial hit. She made it a priority to attend each session so that she could do as well in the course as possible. Jennie was not the only Beacon student to need extra assistance in Introduction to Life Science, as this is known to be an especially difficult course. After one semester of attending study sessions with Staiger, Jennie aced the course and actually became a teaching assistant for Professor Stowe, also taking on the responsibility as student leader of the science study group.

[Great study skills can be the key to success in school.]

Dr. Stowe consistently praised Jennie’s efforts, extolling the benefits of attending the group sessions to his classes. This, coupled with students actually seeing the positive results of attending the sessions reflected in their quiz grades, meant that attendance in the group has always been very high; some weeks as many as 18 students would participate. Based on group needs, Jennie and Ms. Staiger would work together to create the most beneficial session possible. Knowing that there needed to be an emphasis on both auditory and visual elements to cater to different learning styles, the pair crafted PowerPoint presentations, made up sample quizzes, held discussions, and reviewed the material orally. As Jennie’s graduation date loomed, it was decided that students Tony and Tiffany would take her place as coleaders of the group. According to Staiger, the pair “aspire to be like Jennie,” regularly asking if their work is up to Jennie’s standards.

This idea of facing problems and overcoming them is clearly a strong part of Jennie’s personality. The pattern can be seen over and over in her academic studies. When she encountered math in college, Jennie was just as nervous as she had been with science.

And as with her studies in science, Jennie faced her fears and ended up excelling in class, bringing her grades up significantly and becoming a teaching assistant in that course as well. She became the model student to demonstrate how it is certainly possible to work hard in a subject that is not naturally a strength and, with the right support and attention, end up mastering the material.

[Watch another inspiring story. A Human Services Degree: The Social Network of Good]

Jennie’s formula for academic success includes recognizing her own strengths and weaknesses and asking for help when she needs it. She encourages other students to take advantage of the resources offered to them at Beacon College, particularly the learning specialists, who could be “one of your biggest supporters and cheerleaders in helping you achieve your academic goals.”

She proved to be a great teacher herself. As Dr. Shelly Chandler, Vice President of Academic Affairs, notes, “Jennie is a born coach always willing to help anyone achieve his or her goals. When working in the classroom, she exhibits innovative leadership to support the professor. She leads by example displaying a nurturing teaching style that greatly assists students.”

Being named valedictorian is a clear indication to both the individual and others that academic success has been achieved. For Jennie, the experience has reinforced just how far she has progressed with the effort she has exerted in her studies. She leaves this lasting piece of advice for current and incoming students: “You will be surprised by what Beacon College does to you as a person from freshmen to senior year if you embrace any and every opportunity you are given here.” That’s exactly what Jennie did.

Tags: , , , ,

One Comment

  1. Julie Friedman Jul 11, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    Jennie is an inspriration to family, friends and to complete strangers. Jennie has exceeded all expectations. She gives body to vision and to hard work. The impact she has comes from her self-determination to be her own person – reflective, can-do attitude, positive outlook and commitment to help others achieve their dreams.