Terry Tutors Annual Report: 2017

6th birthdayIn just a few days, we’ll turn 6 years old! That’s right — we’ve graduated to “first grade” status and are well on our way to helping parents and students navigate their own educational journeys.

2017 was a wild one, for sure!

Last fall, I was given an amazing opportunity to jump into the classroom as a Special Education Teacher while also earning my Education Specialist Teaching Credential (Mild/Moderate with Autism Authorization). I am so grateful to add this very important skill set to Terry Tutors — teacher with a law degree is a unique combination that can only prove more worthy and beneficial to help families navigate the system.

First Grade Wows & Woes

As is common when entering first grade, though, the work gets harder and the stakes get higher. That’s exactly where we are.

This past year has been one of the most challenging because the work of being a teacher, a good teacher, is truly one of the most difficult paths I’ve ventured. Yes, teachers work just 184 days of the year and while planning for the next semester that may seem like a dream. 20 more weeks! I can do this! The reality, however, is that the act of teaching is an emotional undertaking coupled with logistical precision and passion for your craft. Each child’s academic growth, gain, and progress is at stake every single day.

I took that task seriously. Maybe a little too seriously.

Creating Lasting Change Requires Consistent Self-Care 

With my passion for change came a little self-defeat, realizing that I can never truly give my students my all unless I, too, am filled.

I always tell my students: the brain is a muscle and sometimes it needs to rest so it can come back stronger, ready to learn and work just a bit more — making those all important connections so we can glean the bigger concept. The way to make impactful, real change is also through rest. Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

I realized that if I keep up this pace of working till midnight, working all weekend long, putting work above friends, family and time for myself, I’ll inevitably burn out.

2018 Resolutions

To ensure I can sustain my love for helping students, it’s my resolution to make 2018 Terry Tutors’ year of fulfillment by prioritizing self-care.  I vow to take time to continue my educational journey with passion and precision while also taking time for myself — grabbing a coffee with friends, reinstilling Sunday rest days, taking a walk in the park, going to yoga, and seeing that play in town.

I’m sure there will be times when the work is piling up and I’m tempted to make myself the last thing on the list, but it is those times that I must prioritize my students by prioritizing time for myself — if I’m not filled, cared for, and rested, I’m not my best self and cannot be their best advocate and their best teacher.

Here’s to 2018 — a year of reframing what it means to be the best.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com


If You’re Happy and You Know It…

Cinnamon Rolls.jpgFall makes me crave cinnamon — its comforting aroma wafting through my home gives me a sense that the holidays are near and Thanksgiving and Christmakkah memories are right around the corner.

A Happy Teacher is a Better Teacher

It may seem unrelated but I found myself happily unraveling a cinnamon roll while happily grading papers and planning lessons.

I wondered: Are my lessons better, filled with more fun and creativity, because I’m happier in this moment? Maybe. Just maybe.

How Can I Bottle this Feeling of Contentment?

Becoming a teacher makes me think about my teachers.

Being a person in a position of power and authority can shape a child’s memories of school and help them learn to love or loathe learning, depending on who is standing in front of them.

This is not to say that we all have an off-day or two (ummm, like last Tuesday) but I wonder if I seem more content, more self-assured standing in front of my middle-schoolers Monday-Friday from 8:00-3:08 because I am feeling more content.

Teachers: We Need to Take Better Care of Ourselves

Too often we look at educators, their arms loaded down with bags of books, papers and snacks for the staff meeting, and think of them as martyrs. I often hear, “I could never do what you do.” or “Teachers do not get paid enough, that’s for sure. I commend you.” or “I’d kill to have so much vacation. I mean you work for it, but that’s the life!”

The sentiment and encouragement are nice (and yes, the vacations are lovely), but what I really want is for teachers to take better care of themselves. We can’t pour from an empty vessel.

As summer turns into fall, projects and papers and tests (oh, my!) are coming to a head. It is the season of 12-15 hour work days, day-light savings time, IEP Meetings, and no vacation until November 11th.

It’s a time of burnout.

Instead of just trudging through, I’m going to make a promise to myself — to go to that yoga class, to watch my favorite tv show, to try to go to bed before the clock strikes midnight.

Why? Because a teacher who values self-care is a happier teacher. And learning is just more fun when the person teaching you is happier to be there.

Keep up with the latest blogs, thoughts and resources. Follow us on Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube

Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com



Dear Little A

Little A ShoesDear Little A,

There are some students that will forever tug at my heart-strings; you are one of them.

Before we began our journey together, I felt so much uncertainty about nearly every aspect of life: career, family, friends, relationships, even my little apartment. See, I was taught that feelings sometimes get in the way of the work, and so I didn’t quite know how to express my fear and restlessness. Instead, I stifled it. Tucked it away, hoping that it would magically disappear.

But you, you are a child who wears her emotions on her sleeve. When you are happy, you show it with a grin and a knee bump or two. When you are sad, anyone within earshot will know it. We may never speak the same language, but I know when you are sleepy, angry, hurt, excited, frustrated, or joyful. I know when you want more swing, pats, music, blocks, peek-a-boo, eat, nap, walk, run, and spin. I also know when you are all done. Well, we all know that one — you are very clear.

Little A, you showed me what it looked like to live fully in the moment. You encouraged me to set high expectations for myself and my students. You reminded me that the data sheets will get done in due time. You taught me that success is not measured by whether we met or exceeded the benchmarks but, rather, by whether my dedication yielded just a small but positive difference in the lives of my students and relationships with my colleagues.

It is thanks to you that I continue to follow my passion, learning to help students blossom and become more independent, more expressive, more communicative, and more curious, just like you.

As I close the chapter on our school day adventures, I want to let you know how honored and privileged I am to have been with you for the big moments and the little ones.

You will forever be my Little A.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com


I Didn’t Get Picked for the Team

jury-dutyWill I Be Chosen?

I recently had jury duty. Yes, I hear you groaning, thinking of your own civic duty fate that will, too, find its way to your mailbox one day.

It’s not like anyone really wants jury duty; I get that. I thought I’d immediately be excused due to the fact that I have a law degree and no attorney wants a person who also went to law school sitting with 11 other members of the panel possibly influencing their argument.

So I was surprised when after nearly a week of jury selection I was still in the running. As the Plaintiff’s counsel questioned each of the prospective jurors, I noticed that she used words such as “chosen” and “selected”. Defense Counsel used the same positive connotations to describe our potential service.

Each day I’d walk into the jury assembly room and greet the other prospective jurors. I got to know some of them by name and we chatted while we waited. During questioning, we got to know a lot about each other too. Our answers about our personal and professional lives were a nice foundation to start a conversation during breaks or when the judge was in chambers with the lawyers.

By Day 3, I was on the way to accepting my fate and starting to plan ahead for the two-week trial,”Okay. Yes, jury service is disruptive to my schedule and I have to rearrange student sessions and meetings with schools, but I could do this for a few weeks. I might even enjoy having a break, and I’d get a whole new perspective on our court system from the inside of the jury box.”

Just as I was starting to look forward to it, I got cut.

I Didn’t Get Picked for the Team

After being “Thanked and Excused” from jury service, it surprised me that I felt disappointed instead of relieved.

I started to think about the time I was in 4th Grade and we were on the school yard picking teams for dodge ball. I was picked last. I know! I’m still surprised that I wasn’t chosen. It’s times like these that I still think about that disappointment.

The Link Between Poor Grades & Feeling Left Out

Oftentimes, my students feel alone in their struggles at school. Most of the time their failing grades go hand-in-hand with social struggles too. After my students and I have worked together for a few weeks, they will often confide in me about their daily difficulties to fit in, to find their group, to be “selected”. It’s not uncommon for us to talk about how hard it is to find someone to eat lunch with, work on a group project with several other classmates, raise your hand in class for fear your question will be “dumb”, or navigate the world of the popular kids.

Not doing well academically is often a sign that something else is wrong. Doing poorly in school actually may not be about your child’s ability to understand the material.

Save for a learning difference or diagnosed learning disability, there are a whole host of other reasons your child has trouble in a subject or with school overall: Maybe the lesson is too advanced or not advanced enough; maybe it’s a time management issue because there are too many activities and other obligations; maybe she’s being bullied, maybe he just wants to fit in so badly that he’s willing to follow his friends even if they are “jumping off a bridge”.

Dealing with Disappointment

The point being: fitting in is a big deal. It’s part of the school experience and as such, it’s a big part of your child’s life. Sometimes we don’t get picked for the team. That’s a part of life, too, and we must learn to navigate through that disappointment.

Feel our feelings, as they say.

But no matter how old you get and no matter in what context the situation arises, the disappointment of not being chosen will stay with you, even as an adult who didn’t get picked for jury duty.

It’s the way we teach our children to handle life’s disappointments that make a difference in how they perceive life’s difficult moments. Let’s teach them to honor that feeling and then pick themselves up and find a healthy way forward.

As for me, I bounced back from the disappointment of not being picked for jury duty about 20 minutes later. But I’m sure I’ll get another chance to be selected in the future.

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic Support, Behavior Management, Special Education Advocacy and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.



Defining Self & Success

SuccessAs it stands today, education is geared towards teaching our young students the importance of achieving success. How we define success can make or break our students self-worth. All too often, success is defined according to our culture and in today’s society, success means having money and power so that you can be in control of your own happiness.

My New Definition of Success

As a well-educated and self-proclaimed “definer” of my own success,  I too adhered to society’s definition. The typical Type A student, I found myself always trying to live up to and then exceed my own expectations, attempting to outdo my last triumph and climb the ladder towards the next goal that would reinvigorate my self-worth and value to others. But it seemed the ladder never ended and that if I chose to, I could climb forever.  Only recently, did I begin to question the definition of success I adopted as a child. Through age, experience, and honestly the fact that I was just so tired of my never-ending climb, I  began to realize that my definition of success hinged on control.

And then I realized that control was an illusion.

The fact is I have no control over anyone or anything, except my own behavior, choices and actions. That’s it. After the initial shock wore off, it was oddly reassuring to know that the weight of worrying about having enough money and power so that I could be happy one day had lifted. A new chapter had begun.

I no longer have to wait till I have enough to be happy, I can just be.

Collectively Learning Success Through Praise

Children learn to define success through praise. We were praised for taking our first step, eating our first solid food, and using the potty for the first time. Our basic definition of success revolved around our basic needs. As children grow, the adults in their lives praise them for different things, harder things like getting an A on a test. If you’re praised for getting an A, then achieving an A becomes part of your definition of success. And we, as a culture, unquestionably accept this definition.

But what if we began defining success less collectively and more individually?

At the core of education is understanding how we each learn differently. We’re all good at different things and we all struggle with different challenges. Yet, we are taught to define success in the same way.

The system of education is beginning to catch up with the notion of individualized learning, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, and even brain-mapping. Most educators acknowledge the research but many cannot fathom how to teach 32 students in 32 different ways. Classroom practices will have to be redefined to accommodate this new definition of learning too.

Embrace Individualized Education Now

I’m afraid we cannot wait for the system to catch up with the student. It’ll be too late and another generation lost to the definition that an A means you’re worthy. The work of change must be done now.

It’s important that parents and teachers collaborate, looking at the whole child and honoring their strengths while redefining their challenges. How do we do this?  At home, you can begin to praise your child for achieving a B or even a C in that really hard subject. So your child’s strength is with words and not formulas. That’s okay. She will still be successful in her own right. At school, you can begin to praise your shy student for his thoughtful paper on the subject, even though he chose not to raise his hand to participate in the class discussion.

Redefine Your Expectations

I want to be clear: I am not saying to lower your expectations, but, rather, redefine them in accordance with your child’s individual strengths and challenges. Children want to please you; they will rise to the challenges you set for them. It’s our job, as parents and teachers, to make sure those challenges build upon each other in an attainable way.

Do we define a baby’s first fall as failure? No, we define it as learning. Expectation and failure go hand in hand. Some parents and educators shy away from exposing their students to failure at a young age for fear their child will think of themselves as a failure. Did the baby think of herself as a failure when she fell for the first time? Probably not because her parents reassured her that it would be okay. Then her parents helped their child up and she attempted to learn to walk again.

That’s exactly what we as parents and teachers should be doing with our students: redefining success and failure as, simply, learning.

The challenge is really within ourselves because until we can redefine our own successes and failures as learning, we cannot extend the same kindness towards our children. How we treat others is a reflection of how we see ourselves. That’s one lesson I continue to learn over and over again. Thankfully, that’s a lesson I’m ready to learn.

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.






Rally Like a Cheerleader

cheerleaderIn 10th grade I transferred schools, again. This was my third school in three years and I vowed this was the year I would be more outgoing and get more involved to make the most of my high school experience.

And so I did. Or, I should say, I tried.


I tried out for softball but the sport I had played as a wee elementary school student was now full of fast balls that whizzed right by my head. Um, no thank you.

Flag Team

I tried out for the flag team but after a few weeks of band practice in the balmy, late summer, Midwestern heat I couldn’t take it. I chalked it up to heat-related wimpiness.


Finally, I tried out for cheerleading. I so badly wanted to be a cheerleader. To be part of the pep rallies and walk around in my cool uniform. I could belong.

I practiced the moves once, twice, three times over until I knew them cold. This was going to be my thing. I walked into auditions pretty confident about my choice. The other girls, who had already fulfilled their high school destinies, called us individually front and center to perform.

My journey to high school popularity began. And then it ended during the same three minutes.

See, we learned three different cheers during our practice session and during my audition I performed various moves from all of them in one. It was a sad sight.

To avoid my perceived embarrassment, I preemptively quit. Only later did I find out that the cheer squad was looking for a flyer and since I was petite enough I probably would have gotten the job, despite my failed attempt.

I Rallied Then

I kicked myself about my decision to quit for weeks, nay years! I just wanted to solidify my own high school destiny by being part of something that would come with built-in friends and a coveted title. I didn’t want to start from scratch again. I didn’t want to have to define my own high school standing.

I auditioned for orchestra and choir. These were things I was good at so I fell back on those known skill set. Theater and debate would be added later on. And soon high school would be over and college would present me with a plethora of opportunity to redefine who and what I wanted to be.

I Rally Now

Today, I have a career I love and one I defined based on the many paths I wandered along. I love it to pieces and I will continue on its course forever. It would not have happened, however, if I had not tried something new, failed, taken the bits I did like and mixed it up with something else I tried and failed at once again.

Each time, though, I rallied.

I got up and started again with something new, taking the lessons I had learned from the previous job, school, class, friendship, roommate, boyfriend, car, apartment, travel, argument, conversation, debate, and laughable moment to heart. Never forgetting that each experience, whether I perceived it as good or bad, was one that contributed to who I am today.

Be Your Own Cheerleader

I cheered myself on and kept going in spite of the setbacks. When I couldn’t do it myself, I turned to others in my life who could.

We all need that parent, teacher, friend, partner, confidant who is our cheerleader. But we must, also, learn to be our own cheerleader too.

As a student of life, there will be times when it feels like the dream is too far away and the struggle is too much but do not let that feeling linger too long.

Instead, rally.

Get up and get going.

The world needs you to rally for your own success.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”

I am Thankful for My Sister: The Amazing Speech Pathologist

Elisabeth Zambia

Elisabeth Miller, Extraordinary Speech Pathologist, in Zambia, Africa providing Speech Services with CLASP International

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to give a well-deserved “Thanks!” to my talented and extraordinary little sister, Elisabeth Miller, M.S., CCC-SLP. She has many letters after her name but there’s not an ounce of pomp. Elisabeth works for RiverKids Pediatric Home Health, where she provides clinical Speech & Language Therapy services for Medicaid Patients ages Birth to 21.  Since she’s so kindly taken the Thanksgiving break to visit her L.A. based sister (myself), I thought I’d take this opportunity to interview her about her work in hopes that it will lend some clarity as to what exactly Speech & Language Pathologists (SLP) do.

In general, what does a Speech & Language Pathologist do?

We treat people with all types of communication disorders, which includes any disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate and understand the world around them. We also work on feeding and swallowing for kids and adults who have food aversions/swallowing disorders, and babies weaning from G-Tubes.

Why did you choose to pursue a degree in Speech Pathology?

My mother (our mother) picked it for me. I wanted to work with children, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a teacher in a school because I didn’t know if I wanted to work with large groups of kids. My mother told me to be an SLP because I could work with kids or adults in a 1:1 setting in a hospital or school, and I would always have a job .

Have you found that to be true?

Yes, jobs are plentiful. Totally recession proof. It’s emotionally rewarding and challenging.

What types of kids do you work with?

I see children who have complex medical histories, like prematurity, long hospital stays, weaning from g-buttons or ventilators. I encounter parents who are overwhelmed with the diagnosis and I’m  able to provide family support, education, training, and help their child see improvements.

Tell us a story. A good one about your experience as an SLP.

My favorite kids are those who are labeled as Intellectually Disabled (ID) formerly known as Mentally Retarded. My one little boy, age 9, was labeled as ID and never really able to speak. He had lots of therapy but what I discovered during testing was that he actually had complex motor deficits, including dysarthria (muscle weakness), and Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), which prevented him from acquiring spoken language. His family had wanted him to speak but had given up hope that it was possible because it had been so many years and he just wasn’t progressing. What I found is that when we took the focus away from forcing him to communicate and teaching him instead how to control the muscles in his mouth to formulate sounds, syllables, and words that he was quite capable of being a verbal communicator; he just never had the opportunity or appropriate treatment. I have learned never to give up on kids based on a diagnosis of ID or Autism. Currently, he’s 10 now and he’s playing with his siblings appropriately and calls for them by name using short phrases. He’s making great strides.

What’s one thing you think that the schools do well at in terms of providing SLP Services to students?

I think the schools are doing well at trying to identify children earlier and getting them into special programs at a younger age, which means that they will hopefully have better outcomes as they get older.

What’s one thing you think the schools could improve upon?

Not removing services for children who are in Middle and High School, as this is a critical period for them to learn skills they may not have acquired during their younger years, such as reading, social-communication skills, and functional communication. We have to better prepare them to leave high school.

Have you found your passion within your career?

Definitely! I love working with pediatrics. I work in a Home Health setting and I get the best of both worlds: access to the family, home environment, and able to work with the child 1:1 or incorporate siblings or peers within the community.

So proud of my little sis. For more on Elisabeth and her work, check out CLASP International and RiverKids Pediatric Home Health

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Help Your Kids Find Their Dream Job

Dream jobI love what I do.

That could actually be the end of this post right there. I mean, what more really needs to be said, unless you want to know why.  If so, then read on my friends. Read on.

I had a lot of different jobs growing up: a sandwich shop, which lasted all of one week because I was skimping on the tuna (Side note: I later became a vegetarian), Starbucks, which I loved and hold near and dear to my heart to this day, and babysitting, where I was a natural. As the eldest of three girls, I was in charge and I liked it that way. It’s no wonder I parlayed those bossy aka leadership skills into owning my own company.

This little Venn diagram, above, really captures the essence of finding a dream career. It’s by combining these three areas that I created my dream job: working with struggling students and their families.

Here’s I how I did it.

Stuff I Love to Do

I love chocolate. Sadly, there were no openings for chocolate taste-tester when I graduated with my Bachelors in Psychology right after 9/11 or graduated from law school during the Great Recession (man, I have the worst timing when it comes to graduations!). I relegated chocolate to more of a hobby rather than a career, a decision that my waist line thanked me for.

Other things I love:

  • I love to travel.
  • I love to be independent.
  • I love cooking – throwing a little bit of this in the pan or a little bit of that in the oven and seeing if it tastes good.
  • I love knowing that I’m part of something bigger than myself, a movement of change if you will.
  • I love talking with people one on one. I get lost in big groups but a 1:1 conversation is where I feel at home.
  • I love to uncover the whys of things but then go a step further and figure out a possible solution. I’m not afraid of going outside of the box, in fact, I welcome it and have to be cognizant of sometimes pushing the envelope too far just to see what will happen.

Stuff I’m Good At

  • I’m good at strategy – anticipating both sides of an argument and being prepared to address each of those issues with reasonable solutions.
  • I’m good at administrative paperwork, and boy are there a lot of reports and forms and emails when you own your own business!
  • I’m good at the practicals of life. Getting things done with organization and care.
  • I’m good at seeing the potential in someone or an idea — a potential that may be hidden under a cloud of naysayers, sadness or frustration.
  • I’m good at navigating government entities, like schools.
  • I’m good at working with kids, and, in fact, sometimes I think I still am one. Or maybe that’s just my child-like innocence.

Stuff Someone Will Pay Me to Do

So here’s the big question: How I can prepare my kids (or myself) to find a career that will combine the stuff they love to do with the stuff they are good at? The answer may be as simple as: you can’t.

There may not be a traditional career out there for someone who possesses all the talents and gifts that your kids do. Yes they will find bits and pieces of their dream job by taking a traditional route but the reality is that nothing is perfect and no one loves every, single aspect of their job. Do I love billing? No! Do I make it a priority? Yes, because I have to.

How I Combined the Stuff I was Good At & Loved to Do and Got Paid to Make a Difference

After two degrees and mounds of debt, I set forth on a quest to combine my passion for advocacy with my love of education. I fell back on the “Stuff that I was Good At & Stuff I loved to do” skill set, and began privately tutoring students struggling in school. I quickly realized that their poor grades was often a symptom that something else was wrong: a behavior challenge, learning difference, social skills need, or family dynamic concern. In response to this overwhelming need, I added Special Education Advocacy, Family Coaching, Coordinating Care, School Placement, and In-Home/At-School Behavior Support to my repertoire thus creating a One-Stop Comprehensive In-Home & At-School Support Service for the Struggling Student. I founded Terry Tutors on the premise that collaboration is the key to a student’s success story and made it my mission to bridge the gap between home and school support by providing short-term, direct intervention services with an end goal of teaching The Struggling Student to self-advocate and navigate their own educational and life plans.

My story is one of practical problem solver who needed a self-sustaining, meaningful career that utilized her talents, education, and desire to change the world. The thing that gets me out of bed is the feeling that I’m doing my part to make a difference – to evoke real change. Money, Power, and Titles only provide interim fulfillment.

So instead of asking our children what they want to be when they grow up, we should be helping them identify what they love, what they’re good at, and how to combine those talents to get paid in the real world.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

I was the White Girl at Michael Brown’s School

FergusonCard1_0In response to the happenings in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri this week, it is important that we have a discussion as to why Ferguson, a small black community on the edge of St. Louis City, is the epicenter of racially charged protests, which were triggered when Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, was shot multiple times and killed by a white police officer in broad daylight. Ferguson, like so many little pockets around the US, is now a symbol of the long-standing struggle between white and black America.

Where Did You Go to High School?

When you first meet a fellow St. Louisian they will ask you this one question: Where did you go to high school? This seemingly innocuous question serves the purpose of finding out any surface-level related facts about your religion, financial status, political stance, and family legacy. This is just one example of how St. Louis is divided on so many levels.

Ferguson is one more example that White Privilege exists. It is real. It is rampant. It is evidenced by our racially divided neighborhoods and our schools. It perpetuates White Flight. It is the crux of White Apathy.  It is the cause of generational racism.

I know because I was the white girl at Michael Brown’s school, and I was protected because I was white.

I was Protected Because I was a White Girl in an All Black School

In 1985 my parents moved from University City, where the prestigious Washington University is located, to Bel-Ridge, a low-income, racially mixed neighborhood just 3.4 miles from Ferguson, MO– the area where the world’s attention was focused this week when Michael Brown, the young man who recently graduated from Normandy High School, was killed by police in Ferguson in broad daylight and whose murder ignited a long-overdue racially charged protest that turned violent for nights on end.

St. Louis is above the Mason-Dixon line but you wouldn’t know it. The KKK is still prevalent there and although people won’t say it to your face, there are a good many who don’t like blacks or Jews and will tell you so over the comfort of a beer at the local bar. Normandy, my old neighborhood, has always struggled with violence and the fallout of White Flight. My parents moved into the district naive of its struggles because they had struggles of their own. My family was part of the working poor class and getting a house on a FHA loan was our ticket to normalcy and our version of The American Dream. So we made the 10 minute trek across town to the other side of the “tracks” also known as Highway 70.

I spent first grade through eighth grade in Normandy School District– the same district that Michael Brown graduated from in May of 2014. I was the white girl, and I was the minority.

Play Mamas & Double-Dutch

My elementary years at Bel-Nor and Bel-Ridge Schools were the positive culmination of the civil rights movement– the practicals of Brown v Board in real life. We were happy white children and black children learning together.  I was protected from the gang-related incidents in and around school due to the fact that I, along with most of my white friends, were placed in an isolated, gifted tracking program. I was protected by my black friends who showed their affection by assigning themselves as my “Play Mamas” and “Play Brothers and Sisters”, a title which meant that my older black friends had taken me under their wing and “had my back” if anything were to happen. Not that I feared that anything would happen. I was cute, little, naive, and knew how to double-dutch like a champion.

When I graduated from Elementary to Junior High, life became more on edge, especially during the Rodney King Trial and the LA Riots that followed after the white police officer’s acquittal. I stopped walking to school after I saw a kid get chased home by a group of known gang members.  But I was still separated from the majority of my fellow classmates as all of my core classes were part of the gifted program. This meant that all of my main classes were small and racially mixed as evenly as possible, considering there were about 400 students and of those 30 were white. My school was filled with wonderful teachers who truly cared about their students but who spent most of their time breaking up fights in the hallway and in the lunchroom.

After visiting Normandy High School and seeing that they were installing metal detectors in response to increased gang violence, I decided that it was time to leave.

The White School Across Town was Better

The summer before 9th Grade I asked one of my former Normandy classmates and friends if I could live with her family. They had moved across town to Parkway School District, a predominately white and Asian part of town. I remember the phone call where I asked if I could stay with her family for the year in order to attend a better high school. It sounded more like I was asking if she wanted to go to the mall:

“Hi, Lydia. I don’t know what to do about High School. Do you think it would be okay if I live with you just so I can go to school?”

“Hold on. I’ll ask my dad.”

Her dad said yes and signed a Power of Attorney for me to attend the school across town. And so, at the age of 13, I packed up my Cover Girl magazines and Aquanet hairspray and moved to my friend’s house. Parkway North was just another 20 minutes west of Bel-Ridge, but it was a different world. Things were nicer. Suburbs were cleaner. And the schools were harder. Where I had once been part of a handful of white kids in Normandy, I was now the majority.  Although I was deemed gifted and a straight A student in Normandy, I struggled to maintain a C average in Parkway. It was only years later when Normandy lost its accreditation that I realized my 4.0 Normandy GPA had been inflated for funding purposes.

Ferguson is About the Deep Black v. White Divide in Our Nation

As I watch the footage of the riots and angst in my old neighborhood, I cannot help but think about my Normandy days and why I, like so many of my white and black friends, moved across town to a better school. Yes, I along with most of my friends took part in what is known as White Flight, whereby a white family continues to move further away from a black community and in the process takes their tax dollars with them to a “whiter” school district. I took advantage of my White Privilege.

Ferguson begs the question: Why are we, as a nation, looking the other way when it comes to White Privilege? Ferguson stands as a symbol for all the little neighborhoods across America where White Privilege takes precedence over black protection, safety, and justice for its people.

There is a divide that goes deeper than Ferguson. It is filled with pain and loss for our children who are senselessly killed because of the color of their skin. It is filled with tears for our families who can’t afford to move to a better part of town to receive a better education. It is filled with frustration because the neighborhood school is not doing its job of educating its students nor its community. It is filled with angst and fear that things will never change.

Being the White Minority Allowed Me to Feel Empathy for Other Minorities

I have since left St. Louis and made my home in Los Angeles, another racially divided city but one whose openness to breaking free from the confines of defining another by the color of their skin is far more progressive than my birth place.

But living in a neighborhood and being educated at a school where I was the minority for a change serves as my foundational empathy for the plight of others who are struggling. When I look back at my volunteer work as a FEMA Appeal Coordinator for Hurricane Katrina, my two years spent at the local Latino Health Clinic for migrant workers, or my chosen career path as a Special Education Advocate, it’s no wonder that I gravitated towards helping those who others turn away from –because I, too, know what it feels like to be a minority. The only difference is that I am white and because so, I have a privilege that no other minorities will receive.

Let’s change that.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She dedicates this week’s blog to her fellow St. Louisians in hopes that we all begin to take a look at our part in the struggle that is Ferguson, Missouri.

Be a Student of the Universe: Applied Learning

applied learningApplied Learning. You’ve likely heard the phrase floating around the education world for a while now. Life Hacks and School Hacks are some other prominent ideas making their way to the mainstream. These new terms of art give us a peek inside the new ways forging precedent for using your education as a stepping stone rather than an end goal.

And we should prepare our students for this new reality. For so many families the end goal is getting their kid to college. I caution families that a college degree alone should not be the ultimate goal. Rather, college gives a student a foundational skill set. What they do with that skill set, however, is not something college can teach.

Apply your conventional education to an unconventional path

I recently read an article directed towards law students and new grads–people, like myself, who had intentionally chosen a conventional path to obtain stability, that is until the Great Recession of 2008 happened and stability went out the window. It was appropriately titled “Employment After Law School: The Cold Truth“. And boy was it on point!

After reading, I realized that I had already done what the article suggested– taken my traditional law degree and applied it in a new way to a new industry. What I had blindly done out of survival became the core of my success. I had found a way to merge my passion for advocacy with my love of education. I had, indeed, applied my text-book learning to the real world.

How did I do it?

I graduated law school in 2010 and no one was hiring. So I decided to create my own path to success, which began by taking a chance on a Working-Holiday visa overseas in New Zealand and canvassing Auckland for a firm in my field of interest. I found one that was happy to have an American come on board for a bit and I gained valuable international legal experience and made some life-long friends in the process. Thanks QCL!

When I came back to the US in 2011, the economy was getting better but still in flux and the legal world was still trying to find its way. I hemmed and hawed at what to do. After all, I was in significant student loan debt and, although I had a great analytical and writing skill set, I couldn’t figure out how to apply it to an industry outside of law.

So I fell back on my “before-law-school” skills: Psychology, Nannying, and Tutoring. I was really good at working with kids of all ages struggling in school. As I would sit with these students helping them with their homework, I realized there was a lot more going on here: a learning difference, behavior challenge, social skills need, or family dynamic concern. I started putting my law school research skills to use and found that what these kids most likely qualified for was an IEP, which would provide learning and therapeutic services at school and funding through the state. My sister, who is a Speech Pathologist and never has to worry about not having a job, encouraged me to pursue my digging with the caveat that schools don’t like to give away money and it will be an uphill battle. My legal brain was excited. Maybe I could even use some of my Client Counseling and Alternative Dispute Resolution skills.

I began walking parents through the difficult and emotional process of how to receive state funds and advocating on their behalf at SST’s, IEP’s, and appeals. My legal skills gave me a leg up and I finally felt that my law education was being put to good use.

Three years after I graduated from law school, I formalized my new endeavor in the education law world and Founded Terry Tutors: One Comprehensive Support Service for Struggling Students. I am proud to be an Education Advocate for Special Needs and owner of my own small business.

After law school, it was scary out there because the stability that I had sought no longer existed. I had to create my own job, but I couldn’t have done it successfully without my foundational legal skill set.

The Takeaway

The traditional, individualistic path is slowly being replaced by a collaborative one. Things have changed, and we have to create a new tradition, one that requires us to take our foundational skill set achieved through conventional means and apply it towards new industries. For our students, they are living in a time of unlimited information by way of the internet. They are exposed to creative thought on a new level, in a way that we, as adults, did not grow up knowing.

I believe this will allow our students to forge ahead and pioneer their own educational and career pathways at a younger age. But they still need us. Our students need the teachers and parents in their lives to foster this desire to engineer their own careers. It is our job to give them the foundations of successful schooling by tapping into their potential early on. If we pledge to do so, our students will not feel stifled by their choices but, rather, excited by their possibilities.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.