“You Are MALALA!”

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Today, I was overwhelmed with a feeling that I have yet to identify. I have had a lot of difficulty helping my students to understand how precious an education is. I tend to get frustrated when my students get in their own way.

For that reason, I chose to teach my students about Malala Yousafzai. I was not sure that they would embrace it, but it was worth a try.

This morning, which is normally “Writing Wednesday”, I wrote a simple question on the board, “What do you know about Malala Yousafzai?”

When my 1st group of students entered the room, they looked at her name. To my surprise, one student knew who she was. He boldly raised his hand and said, “She got shot. She cares about education. She is a hero.” I was proud at that moment and excited about what else we would discover about this young lady.

We then watched a short video and discussed more about Malala. The students were shocked that she was their age when she started to speak out. They were shocked that she was shot and about the violence that was part of her life. Looking at their faces as they took it all in, I could see that they were hurt by the events that took place for young Malala.

We wrapped up by watching her Nobel Peace Price Speech. My first period class began to clap and cheer on Malala as she spoke. I saw heads nodding – smiles forming. It was clear that this was having an effect. Then, out of the blue, one of my students turned to me, a smile beaming brightly in his eyes. He pointed to my face and said, “This is for you. You are Malala!” I choked on tears quickly and said, “This is for us! We are Malala!”

It was so beautiful – that quick moment when I know that this student felt something inside of him that I hope will remain lit for the rest of his life.

We have decided to make a project dedicated to Malala and her efforts to promoted education in spite of the dangers she has faced. I’m excited to see what they will do.

I part with just a few words this evening, “You ARE MALALA!” so please take the time to lend your voice and make a difference!

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Art Exhibit

Art by Rhonda Richmond Art Exhibit

University of Denver Women’s College From August 3rd – September 30, 2015

Opening reception confirmed for Friday, August 7th, 6:30 – 9:00pm

Attire: Pink (in any way, shape or form)

Accessories: White Gloves (for CWC/TWC Alums and supporters)

Why PINK: I ask that you come in support of Beast Cancer – NOT simply awareness, but in support of a CURE! Some of you may not know that cancer has cost me some amazing friends (2 friends this last November 2014 – one in May of 2013) and it has hurt others that I dearly love (they are battling it or are have battled it). It is a monster. Cancer stole the life of my father in 2002 as well.

WE need to beat this killer! And WE need everyone to do what he or she can to help. If all you own is a pink ribbon and you can bike to this event, please come.  I’m not only asking for donations. I am asking for those who cannot donate to show support via attire. I will be donating the proceeds of one of the paintings to the cause identified by a friend impacted by this disease.  More details on this soon.

Why White Gloves: This exhibit is also important for another reason. CWC – The Colorado Women’s College is in danger of closing. As an alumna, that makes this exhibit very special to my heart. It could be one of the last at this University.

When I first attended CWC (then The Women’s College – TWC), I had escaped an abusive marriage. It was a safe place to learn – to find myself – to grow. I know that some people struggle to understand the value behind an all female university – but the support I received from students and staff helped me to find the courage to rebuild my life. It was a haven of like minds, love, and preparation for other things that were going to happen in my life. I regret to say that I was never able to attend the famous “Hanging of the Greens” – a celebration of every graduate at CWC/TWC. I missed out on a great tradition. However, I can show support for the tradition that has touched so many and the college that sheltered me in my time of need.

I welcome you all out to this showing. Please feel free to bring guests.

Business Opportunity:

If you are a business owner and you would like to create a gift basket – please contact me via LinkedIn email. This is a great way to showcase your business!!!! Gift baskets will be handed out as prizes to participants during the ceremony.  All contributing businesses will be mentioned at that time.

Teach 2 Reach 2 Serve Responsibly!!!

Dr. Rhonda Richmond

Short talks with good friends who have lost their lives to cancer.

Short talks with good friends who have lost their lives to cancer.

Tips for Parents on Teaching Reading, Writing and Math Skills

I received an email from a parent asking me to write some tips to help parents (new and experienced) provide reading, writing and math instruction to their children at home or in addition to what they learned in school. Often parents feel like their hands are tied when it comes to helping their own children to learn, especially when the parent has a learning disability. I want all parents to realize that they are the first educators their children will ever meet and they have a huge set of advantages – time, opportunity, trust, skill, and knowledge about their children. For your child to be a good student, you have to show them the way and you are equipped – trust me.

Tip 1: Read books that you are able to read fluently. By reading a book fluently you are teaching your child how to read in a conversational way. Do not worry whether or not book is simple or complicated. It only matters that your child hears the text come to life in a way that resembles everyday conversation.

Tip 2: Read books with numbers in them. This allows your child to build number sense and helps them to see numbers in a universal way. This is especially good for small children who are just beginning to talk.

Tip 3: Phonemic Awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate phonemes or what experts say is the smallest unit of sound that can differentiate meaning. This is something you can do in the dark. Play a game with your children. Turn the lights off or have the child cover their eyes and practice sounds. You can say /b/ and have your child mimic the sound. You can choose any letters for the night, but it works best if you choose letters that combine into one word (like /b/, /a/, /t/ (bat), so throughout the lesson your child is actually spelling words phonetically.

Tip 4: Phonics is putting the letter symbols to the sounds. After you have a child spell the words using the sounds – then let them see the word and say the letters. You can do one or two words each time you play, but the more you play the more vocabulary you can introduce and this will help your child spell in the long run. It is also fun and can be a great way to get your child excited about learning!

Tip 5: Highlight/underline vocabulary in the text and help your child to create child friendly definitions for those vocabulary words. If you are struggling to define a term, look it up. It is great for your child to see you search for information in a dictionary or online. This allows your child to see and use other resources. Write those vocabulary words on an index card with definitions on the back. When you have down time (or as a barter for some TV time) quiz your child on a few words from the deck of index cards.

Tip 6: As soon as your child can write more than the alphabet, have the child write the definitions. Writing is a tough skill to master, help them practice as often as possible.

Tip 7: Keep a notebook with your child – a journal – making it beautiful or whimsical on the outside makes it more unique for your child. When you move about your day, point things out and have your child write them in their journal. For instance, say you decide to take a stroll to the local park. You can point out bugs or clouds or cars and say, “Hey (child’s name here). Look at that (item here). Let’s write that in your journal.” Then write, Today I saw a (item). Let your child write the sentence that you wrote. If your child is older have them write a short paragraph about whatever it was you saw.  Be sure to remind them about it the next time – we call this activating prior knowledge – when children associate new skills to what they already know, they tend to maintain that information.

Tip 7: Speak in complete sentences and encourage your child to do the same. Set the expectation that you and your child can use proper sentences.

Tip 8: Practice math problems with your child. This is easy. Example: Take boxes out of the cabinet. Set a few on the counter. Talk out loud about how many boxes you have on the counter. Take some away or add some and talk out loud about the process. Count the number of boxes you have and then speak the number sentences. Example: I placed 5 boxes on my counter top. If I add 3 more boxes, I have 8 boxes on my counter top. 5+3=8. I know this sounds monotonous, but it helps your child to see how to add and subtract. Do this when you are shopping at the grocery store or any other place where you can discuss numbers. The more you build the better you get.

Tip 9: Many times parents tell me that the educational system has a responsibility to bend to meet the needs of their child. This is an interesting perspective.  Even if the educational system bends to meet the needs of the child through their high school years, that will not always be the case when that (now) adult goes to college or when they find a career later in life. As hard as it is to come to terms with, we must teach our kids how to work around others in a way that might be outside of their comfort zone.

Example. My daughter has severe ADHD. She wants to be an accountant in a business office. For that to happen she had to go to college. The majority of college campuses are not designed for different types of learners. She had to learn to sit through the interview without bouncing, she had to learn how to directly respond to questions, and she had to prove that she could adapt to the culture of that school.  She will have to do the same thing when she is ready to find a career. For that reason, we spent a lot of time teaching her how to sit still and focus. We trained her how to hear questions to ascertain what was being asked. We pushed her to find outlets after she got out of school so she could get through an 8 to 10+ hour workday.

I hope she finds a career that she loves, but I also feel better knowing she has the knowledge and the skills to make it in a world that is not accustomed to her way of doing things. We did that not by teaching our daughter about the world as we hoped it would be some day, but by teaching her about the world as it is. I have no doubt that one day I will find her working while dancing – in a company that has a great deal of confidence in her ability to do what it takes to get the job done.

RECAP:

Parents, I understand that reading, writing and math are hard things to tackle. However, I want you to think about it under these types of terms. If your child wanted to be a dancer, football player, journalist, etc., you would ask them to practice the skills they needed to be successful at those things. Academic skills are no different. For our children to become better students they need the skills. You don’t have to do all these things at once. You can just take one tip and apply it. I give you these tips because they worked for me.

Please continue to write. If you want more details on any particular tip, I am happy to spend more time. I wish an abundance of blessings to all of you and your children. If you have tips to share – please feel free to share.

The Steps of Progress (19 years and Counting)!

For those of you who are parents, you know (especially when you have children with learning disabilities) progress is sometimes a slow crawl on a long journey towards adulthood. It’s hard to know if the decisions you have made in your child’s younger years are going to become the roadblocks or bulldozers that they deal with in their adult lives.

When I first discovered that my daughter was having difficulty learning, I admit to feeling apprehensive. I went to the people that I presumed where the experts (her teachers), but I found myself facing what I considered to be a brick wall. Most people thought that I should allow her to just be “happy” and let everything else (learning and education) go.  I don’t understand why we think that a child facing an obstacle should be forced to make the choice between learning and play. However, when it comes to learning disabilities, I find that is often the first response.

I can’t explain what that feels like.  I can only tell you that it is insulting.  It was so insulting to me that I determined in my own head that I wanted my daughter to have more than an enjoyable childhood – I wanted her to enjoy her life as an adult.  For that reason, we began writing and reading at home, tutoring over the summer and practicing those skills in other non-academic situations. What I mean by this is that I found a book and I scheduled our days, we would work for an hour or so and play for an hour or so.  If we took a trip to the zoo or the museum, we broke that trip down and wrote about it (wrote while doing it). We would walk to the library and read out loud.  If we saw a movie about something, we researched it to find out more.  When she was older, we took notes, practiced responding to questions and we dove into things that were unfamiliar.  It was not easy and sometimes she fought me, but we pushed on.

I recall other parents telling me that doing this was abusive. One parent told me that my daughter would grow up and become ‘wild’ because I had her practicing her writing when she could have been outside playing and enjoying her life like all the other kids her age. I cannot tell you how often I questioned my choices, especially those years when it seemed like my daughter was not making any progress or when she would take a test at school and come home feeling defeated and sad.

The only thing that kept me motivated during those times was the idea that my daughter was going to struggle as badly as I did if I did not find a way to help her. I thought about the insecurity she could face as an adult if she could not read and write and that was all that I needed to keep pushing forward.

This week, my daughter called and announced to me that after her graduation from college in May (with a BA in Business Administration), she will be moving on to a one-year graduate program. She is also hoping to spend part of her summer over seas. I leapt for joy – physically and emotionally.  I was so excited that I announced her good news over Facebook before she had the opportunity to share it herself.

When I look at her now, I still see that little bitty kiddo, struggling to hold her pencil. I see that kid who could not stay in her seat. I see that little one crying because the words in the book were hard to read. I see the kid who called herself stupid. I see the child who was picked on for being different. BUT, I also see an amazing and beautiful woman with hope and love and joy for any and every second that life provides.

I still question my choices. Maybe that is the price we pay as parents. However, I no longer question them as bad choices. I wonder what I could have done better, what would have made things easier, what skills can I develop to help parents in the same position I found myself in those years ago.

My advice at this point is – DON’T GIVE UP! People with limited vision will tell you that what you are doing is stupid, that your child should play instead of learn, that you are being mean for working for a future for your kid. Hold on to your vision! Do NOT let it go! Don’t let it drive you crazy, but use it to fuel your child to a lifetime of victories. I have faith in you all and I hope you have faith in yourselves!

I wish you a happy and Joyful THANKSGIVING!!!

Re-Learning Letter Sounds: The Almost Impossible Mountain Climb to American Sign Language

Over the last several months, I discovered that I do not have a letter-symbol-sound understanding. That is confusing, so allow me to try explaining another way. I do not necessarily recognize letters, which makes it difficult to teach the letter sounds. I discovered this while sitting in my literacy class. The teacher would say a sound and I would actually see an image – not a letter.

I then spent some time attempting to figure out what I was going to do to develop my special education skills. Teaching phonics is a key element of my job.

Like most days, I tried to paint. It was helpful in the fact that it allowed me to work through my feelings, but I did not miraculously find an answer – or maybe I did. Just after I painted my last piece, I remembered something that happened to me in the 4th grade. At that time, I joined City Wide Choir. I was struggling to really sing out and speak up for and myself. Mr. A., my teacher at that time, taught us how to sign our names. Mr. A. would play a note on the piano, sign it, and then have us sing it.

With the memory fresh in my head I signed, “My name is Rhonda.” Not fast – I am sure I made some big errors, but it was easier for me to use my hands then it was for me to use my voice.

I set out to try it in my class. I decided to use a sign, speak the sound, say the picture on the card, and finally speak the sound to my students. My first day was not miraculous by any means, but it worked. I was able to slow down, match the symbol to the sound and match the sign to the symbol.

Since, I have been taking a little time each week to dedicate to watching sign language (ASL specifically). I can state here and now that I have so much respect for the deaf/hearing impaired community. I do NOT say that as hero worship. I say that with the understanding that I wish I had been taught to sign earlier in my life. The body is so interesting. I used to move my hands without mission or purpose. Signing makes me feel like my hands have a purpose. And I appreciate the fact that there are not so many words. Most of my life English has been a challenge. I stumble over words, phrases, rules, sounds, and letters. I could cry right now – I just feel like I missed out on so much.

I have no idea if there is any research into teaching individuals with autism sign language in addition to their own native language. I would love to find out.

In the middle of full time work and full time school, I have realized that I do not have enough hours in my day to devote to learning sign the right way, but I at least plan to try. Now, I plan to put out a challenge to any reader that I may have, IF you have any resources that you would like to share – PLEASE DO! I am open.

Looking back at the title of this article, I would like to explain why I call this the almost impossible climb to American Sign Language. I only say this because it is a great challenge for me to force myself to move beyond finger signing. To date, I have never been able to learn another language other than English. My fear with sign language is that I might mess up and say the wrong thing and completely offend another person. I have some interesting hand to eye coordination issues that sometimes impacts me when I do things like walk (this might look like me trying to put the same foot forward twice – forcing me to trip – it also impacts me in other ways as well) and point or do anything at the same time. I could do each lesson and finger sign, but then what am I teaching myself??? How am I growing my students??? I want to show my children that having ASD and learning disabilities may present challenges, but with the right supports they can build new skills and become stronger people.

It is my hope to become the best special education teacher I can be. I hope that ASL might help me. I thank you all so much for your endearing support. May we all continue

Speaking Up, Speaking Out, and Near Misses

Last night I had the opportunity to speak at a charity event for an inner city youth program here in my local area. It was an honor to be invited. I shared the stage with some truly beautiful individuals.

I began the evening with a slight bit of angst. Just after getting ready for the dinner, I received a call that my son was “missing”. Those are words no parent wants to hear, right?

Right!

So, let me take you back a few steps and explain. My son is about to hit 14 years old. He has a high IQ and Autism Spectrum Disorder. For this reason, we have chosen NOT to have him ride on the bus alone. Not because he is incapable, but, because sometimes he makes choices that sometimes difficult for me to understand.

That said, yesterday, I was getting ready. I had my simple black dress, pearls, and high heels on when my husband called to ask me if I knew where my son was. My husband was picking him up that day and I had requested that my son wait for him just in front of the school. Regardless, my heart hit the ground that very moment.

Trying not to panic, I asked my husband to check each of the three buildings that sit on the property where my son goes to school. In all there is a middle school, a technology building, and a high school. This is not a small area. He now has the school searching and the worry is moving from my heart to my head. I knew we needed a plan and we needed one quickly.

My husband begins searching again and I proceed out the door – ready to call the police. Foot on the gas – tears in my eyes – I asked my husband for two things:

  1. Check the park next to the school.
  2. Stop telling me all the possible things that could go wrong.

Just as I turned the car down a major intersection near my son’s school, I heard my husband say, “He is standing on the bleachers looking at me.”

I can honestly say that I felt both anger and relief. As soon as my son was near the phone I demanded to speak to him and I yelled, cried, and apologized all at the same time – thanking God the entire way.

I went to my event – without my speech (I left it in the house when I went screeching towards the school). It was so difficult to formulate great thoughts knowing what happened just before. As I took the stage I realized that this was exactly where I needed to be. Because of circumstances, some poor child did not have the support of parents or loved ones (like my son did).

I found myself imagining what could have happened if my son was alone and left to fend for himself – what if there was no one there to realize he was missing? I think it was that thought alone that pushed me to continue to speak when all I really wanted to do was to come home and hold him in my arms (which I did – as soon as I walked in the door).

My son truly thought that he was going to a place where we could see him better – some place high where we could spot him. He acknowledged passing adults who could help him. He viewed them as busy and did not want to interrupt (we have been teaching him interruption is rude). He chose not to use the phone because he had not been given permission. I think the odd thing about these types of disabilities is that I can fully understand the logic behind his responses as I realize how much work I have to do to help him navigate the world. My son was trying to comply with social norms that are confusing. Just as the students I was speaking for are trying to cope with situations that are confusing, potentially debilitating, and completely out of their own control (just like my sons ASD is out of his control).

I write this today to tell you to speak of for, support, and be an advocate for children who cannot help themselves – even those with families that love them. Don’t just sit on the sidelines. In a blink a life can change – be the change agent.