“He’s not learning at the pace I expect him to and I feel it’s best he repeat this year”, said Ms Heusner of Belize Elementary School (BES), Belize City. My heart sank. “What does she know!”, I thought. I was upset. She had to be wrong. My son was 3 years old at the time. How could he possibly need to repeat? It was ABC, for crying out loud. Of course he’ll catch on.
“No, he won’t repeat. Move him forward.” I retorted. I knew that it was an unfair assessment. I had a flashback to a moment I had with him in the kitchen just some weeks before.
“Mommy, please send chocolate for teacher tomorrow”, he said to me as he pulsed himself up on the kitchen sink staring up at me with his beautiful dark eyes. “Why do I need to send chocolate Deej?”, I asked. “Because that’s what makes teacher good.” he said confidently. “We don’t give chocolate so people like us babe.” I responded.
“I’m on to you,”, I thought to myself.
Well that was it. That’s what this was about. He wasn’t one of the kids who took gifts for the teacher and now this is the result. She wants him to repeat. She thinks he’s having trouble learning ABCs but look at this insightful and observant 3 year old already assessing that if he takes chocolate for the teacher, things will be a lot smoother for him.
That school year I had to leave the country for a month and took my son with me. I convinced myself that it was the only reason he didn’t catch on to his ABCs. And, she wants him to repeat for that AND because he doesn’t take chocolate! THE NERVE!
DEEEFENSE! Stomp Stomp Stomp!
I felt like I was at a local basketball game I used to go years before at the Civic Center in Belize City.
I was in defensive mode and I didn’t want to see or hear Ms Heusner’s insight into my son.
He wasn’t learning ABCs but he drew a beautiful turtle without a picture to reference at only 2 years old and without prompts from anyone to do so. Obviously something was wrong with them. Yes, this was my solid reasoning. I kid you not. Defensive mode is a hell of a thing.
Ms Heusner had at least, or just under, two decades of teaching under her belt by then but in my dismay, none of that mattered or even occurred to me. I didn’t want to acknowledge it. He went on to Kindergarten with Ms Burns and the struggle continued. She tried to help him using the sand outside so he could draw letters in the sand and associate it with sound. I bought ABCs in the forms of tangible letters that we could use to play and do fights with so he could remember the sound that went with each one.
Hardly anything stuck.
The Letter ‘A’ Makes the Sound “ah” for Apple!
Not for my son. ‘A’ made the sound ay like hay, say and day.
E made the sound e like eel, easy and erode but not eh like elephant.
He was extremely phonetic and I had to find my way with how he learned and how he saw the world. It was just exactly as he heard it.
When there were parades at school and he had to wear a hat, he threw a fit. Just about every other child was happy and content and my son cried through the entire process. He didn’t like conforming to the norm and hated wearing the hat they put on him. DeJean never reported back what happened in school other than remembering that the teacher is pleased if you take her chocolates. Days of the week were only important if it involved a holiday and still asks me what day of the week it is from time to time.
I searched for years to find a way to teach him the alphabet and the varying sounds.
It felt like like I’d been around the world and back searching for a way that made sense to him. Finally, I found a system out of the UK – well, it was on a UK site. Each sound accompanied an action. So A makes the sound ah like ants and with that word there was an action of ants running up his hands and so on. Tying an action to the letter and the sound finally resonated with him and a very slight introduction to reading was made. He was around 6 years old.
Maybe He Needs a Filter (Not SnapChat Type)
My aunt told me about one of my cousins who took some tests and learned that some people can read better when there’s a color filter over the words. Maybe it would work for DeJean but he would need tests. No problem. I’d try just about anything to get the help he needed.
We made our appointment at the Irlen Institute in California on July 30th 2008. We wanted to see if maybe using a color shield over the text he was seeing would be the solution for him. It worked for my cousin. Maybe it was an easy solution to his reading hurdles.
The details are blurry to me now. All I remember is a dark room and a big desk and words that had little meaning to me. These tests were more ideal for 7 year olds. DeJean had just turned 6 but I was desperate for solutions and insisted that they see him. They complied.
Problem was, it would have been better to wait til he was 7. I wanted a diagnosis. Typical human behavior I guess.
I was expecting to be something like this. “He has dyslexia. Use this filter and all the words will appear correctly.” YES! Problem solved. NO.
A Myriad of Profiles
“Your son fits a myriad of profiles Ms Shaw”, Shirley said to me. Again, my heart sank. What do these people know anyway? Maybe they don’t even know what they are doing. “He’s a little bit of a lot of things. We see dyslexia, a little ADD…” she went on. “So you can’t just tell me one thing he fits that we could just work on?,” I interrupted. We made a long trip to see her and all she could say was that he fit many profiles and they couldn’t truly diagnose him til he was 7.
“Well, then why did you agree to see us,” I was rolling my eyes back and forth from her office to Timboktu. I forgot that I was the one who insisted.
We left with a report that made some suggestions for his current school at the time. The ones that struck out mostly were the following:
- Don’t mark his work with lots of red ink everywhere. It sends a terrible message to a child like him.
- If there are errands to be run, choose a kid like DeJean. The tiny distractions will help him tremendously.
- Lessen the amount of work he gets and make it simpler.
I met with his principal, Mrs Nisbet, and shared all the notes. The teachers tried to adhere but with at least 25 to 30 other kids in their classes, it was hard to keep track of what suits each child.
After School Sessions
Each new school year brought new challenges for my boy and consequently me.
Besides what I tried on my own, he had countless teachers who wanted so much to help him. They all tried wholeheartedly. After school sessions with Ms Revers and Ms Padilla were helping but only a nudge in the direction we all hoped for. They were tending to other kids at the same time and trying to reach each one with the same effort. Ms Karima, yet another teacher, used to come to our home a couple times a week. It helped him edge along only a little bit. Evening classes with Ms Viola and Ms Lara were yet another attempt at getting him to up to par with his peers. Each little accomplishment meant so much to each teacher.
Having a child like me has shown me what a gift it is to teach. I can tell you that I don’t have it, unless you want to learn about the The Secret. He’s helped me to see the best and worst of myself in trying to teach him.
TEACHING IS A GIFT!
New School. New Chance. Not Quite.
Once he finished his Infant 2 year, BES decided he would need to repeat. It wasn’t up to me this time. A decision was made by the administration and it was out of my control.
So, I moved him. A new school was forming and I was full of hope. He would repeat but he wouldn’t notice because it was a new school with new kids. All was well in my world. New school. New Chance. Not Quite.
He made quite a bit of progress but not enough and I decided to switch him back to where he first started. He was given the chance to be in Standard 1, trusting that since he actually did repeat Infant 2 at a different school, he was caught up.
June 2012. I was right back where I started.
Old School. Second Chance. Same Problem.
“Jeannie, we’ll have to repeat DeJean. He’s just not learning the way we need him to.” Mrs Nisbet said to me. Old school. Second chance. Same problem.
There I was, back where I started. Her neatly organized office and desk and my scattered brains.
“It’s as if there’s like a little man in his body who receives and delivers information. But when he goes in to get the files as needed, he becomes confused and either can’t find them or can’t bring them to the surface,” said Majiba, the vice principal at the time. “He needs help we don’t feel we can give him. We are willing to try but he has to repeat.” Mrs Nisbet added.
How many times can your heart sink on one recurring matter? A million times, to date lol.
I hardly held it together enough to make it to my car outside. Once I got inside, the sobbing began. Where had I gone wrong? If only I didn’t take that month off. I didn’t do enough with him at home with his ABCs. No one told me how to do this. We should have spent hours working everyday.
My self blame was as rampant as the traffic around me. I could hardly breathe. What else could I do?
Today, I still ask myself that same question. What else could I do?
My son, DeJean Elizon Wright, still learns differently and the words I hear still hear now from teachers sound terribly familiar. He did go on to find more advanced solutions. However, either years of red marks all over his papers have affected his whole perspective on traditional education OR it’s just not for him.
Sorry To Bother You
Conversations with him will mislead you into thinking he’s just the average teenager as far as education is concerned. His wit and humor will make you wonder if I’m telling stories about how he learns differently. His comebacks to me on a daily basis often send me into spirals of laughter, like last week when I wanted him to go see a movie.
“Deej, do you want to go see a movie?” I asked. “What’s the name of the movie”, he replied. “Sorry to bother you.” I responded. “Um no, but that should have been your first words to me when you opened my door!” he spat back at me in jest. “Hahaha” I couldn’t help myself. Maybe it’s our dry humor from my dad. Someone else might see it as rude but for us it’s humor and it often grabs me in giggles.
I’d guess this is where his writing comes from. Like his mom, he has a way with words. He may not spell them correctly although he’s gotten a lot better but he will spit them out mostly with ease and most especially when he’s writing.
Beats on YouTube
A few years ago he decided he wanted to try writing to beats he found on YouTube. The kid that took 3 extra years to understand that a makes the sound ah like apple learned how to find beats, write lyrics to it, create videos and upload them with ease. Absolutely no help from me. It was something he loved to do. It served his spirit and gave him a sense of purpose. No one was monitoring his spelling or expecting him to learn at their pace.
There are so many ways I can relate to my son. School was something I worked hard at. Science and Math still hardly make sense to me and I still don’t see the point of chemistry, for example, in education unless they are tied to a child’s dreams and goals. I couldn’t possibly tell my son all the ways in which I agree with him.
He has bigger dreams at 16 years old than I have in my 20s right now. Yes, my 20s. Young chick here. This year he didn’t want to celebrate his birthday because he didn’t achieve some goals he set for himself. Not a single one of them had to with school, as you may have guessed by now. BUT the vision he has for himself, I have yet to formulate for myself.
I’ve gently dosed him with the concept of The Secret, affirmations and visualizations and maybe he uses them without realizing because some how he brought at least one thing to himself at 16 years old – a song.
Fast forward to recent months when an old friend and I rekindled our communication from 20+ years ago. His artist name is Geronimo Wild Apache, born Adrian Sanker from Corozal, Belize. He is the owner of Dreemwurl Entertainment and saw a chance to, at the very least, inspire a young man to continue with his love of music. “Bring him by the studio and let him record with me”, he said.
I agreed. The sound and clarity would be better than what DeJean set up in his room. It would open DeJean up a little more since his teenage years took him to more quiet place overall.
Before long, he was writing to more and more songs and learning to record and edit himself in the studio. Geronimo’s connections lead DeJean to meeting artist Dignitary Stylish, born Horace Samuels from Portmore, Jamaica.
“Mi have a song mi want him sing pahn” Dignitary said to me on one of my many pick ups from Geronimo’s home studio. “He is a talented youth, enuh. He can goh far.” he added.
I felt proud. I’d heard Dignitary’s vocal and writing skills and felt good that he saw the talent in my son.
So, there he was. 16 years old and spending hours upon hours in studio with men double and triple his age and fitting right in. Not the typical 16 year old at all.
Money Maker by Dignitary Stylish
Little did I know how serious Dignitary was.
DeJean was given the opportunity to write the lyrics for the first portion of Dignitary’s latest release.
“I just gave him lickle guidance and him bring it.” Dignitary said.
The kid who couldn’t understand that the letter a makes the sound ah was spitting lyrics like “my neck froze, I ain’t worried ’bout a drought” and “yea I’m really fired up, burnt darth vader.” He doesn’t know what a metaphor is but uses them naturally in all his writing.
The song is “Money Maker” and was officially released this week on all major music distribution platforms. 99c for each download. YES, I’m encouraging you to buy.
My son, the lyricist, was featured on a song!
Ms Heusner was Right
Turns out Ms Heusner was right about my son’s learning hurdles. She saw them within months of teaching him. I was just being a defensive mom who wanted to believe that every adventure with my son would be easy. It’s not. It still isn’t.
Every teacher has contributed so much to his life and learning even if he doesn’t realize it. Some teachers more than others, like Ms Moore who is the only teacher who got my son to do long division on his own. He was somehow also drawn to his Science teacher Mr Garcia and his English teacher Mrs Portillo from middle school. Some teachers touched him more than others and every name I’ve mentioned here is one of those teachers for him.
The Strong Silent Type
DeJean is the strong silent type. Like his mom. He looks easy going – his quiet ways will easily mislead you. DeJean doesn’t like to conform to the norm and fights it in the smallest and biggest ways. School is still his least favorite place in all the world. I’m still hearing the same concerns from all his teachers many years later. I likely won’t be the mom who gets to take pics of him at prom. He doesn’t see the point of prom and finds it all ridiculous – FOR HIM. He’ll smile and sweetly comment to me on his friends’ pics and accomplishments.
Some weeks ago, I proudly declared to him that Jayda (whose mom is like a sister to me) ranked 2nd place for the Belize District Spelling Bee. “Jayda came in 2nd for spelling in Belize Deej!” I excitedly told him that evening. “It’s JAYDA mom! Why would you even be surprised? Tell her congrats.” he said. He loves it and admires it but acknowledges that it won’t be him.
I’m slowly coming to terms with that although I should know by now. No Spelling Bee wins and no proms.
But a few amazing model pics might give me some other stuff to brag about like this pic of him in Santa Monica, California.
My Son is a Lyricist
And today I get to tell you that my son is a lyricist and he was featured on a song that’s now available for download at only 99c. Yes, another attempt to get you to buy. If you’ve read this far, don’t you think you should just give in?
I get to tell you that he’s funny, sweet, laid back and can read my energy from miles away. He has a way with animals and grew to be 6′ 2″ so far. Now I’m the one staring up at him with my beautiful dark eyes full of love for all that he is.
I don’t know what his future holds for him in terms of education but I’m thankful that two grown men, a Belizean and a Jamaican, saw a young man with writing and rapping skills and decided to give him the opportunity to record and later actually on an officially released dancehall tune with one of Jamaica’s veterans.
Who knew that a friendship from 20+ years ago would lead to that same person being so welcoming, hospitable and kind to my giant of a son. You just never know how life will unfold.
BZE Kings by DeJean Wright
Whatever learning style your child has, there may something else there waiting to be explored. If your child isn’t learning like the other kids or at the pace they are learning, there may be something else there yet to unfold.
While many days have been hard getting DeJean to focus, some how guidance finds him through people who are maybe strategically placed in our lives and us in theirs. He was encouraged to find a way to make money which lead him to coming up with a design for merchandise.
So, I get to tell you also that he came up with a design to promote young men in Belize to see themselves as Kings. I helped him to open an online shop to sell his merch. When he gave me his first draft for the BZEKings idea, I didn’t agree and went another way with it.
DeJean insisted that he wanted the Belize flag on it and whatever other elements he included in his drawing. Turns out, he was right. No one liked my version. Just his. He’s also received interest in having BZEQueens available which has been added to his product list.
His online store is www.society6.com/bzekings
Ms Heusner was right about his learning styles and needs. And he was right about using the design with the flag. I wasn’t right about much but I’m still here trying 🙂
Cheers to the ones who live outside the box.
If you’re on Instagram, follow DeJean at @BZEKings and remember to check out Money Maker!
Final attempt to get you to buy a download for only 99c. 🙂 Say yes!