This article originally appeared in The Beacon Spring 2017 issue.
In second grade, Tina Hinman ’11 knew she was different from her peers when she started to be pulled out of the classroom on a regular basis to work with her public school’s special education assistant. Now as she prepares to make a choice on where to go to medical school, she feels a sense of accomplishment in not only overcoming her learning disability but also using her experience to help others embrace their differences, too.
Frustration from struggling to read and write characterized Tina’s first-grade classroom experience. “While my peers broke into reading groups, I was left alone, unable to participate,” she recalls. “I tried to manage my reading discrepancy by fabricating descriptions of the book’s plotline based on pictures. While this was hardly a practical solution, I cultivated my creativity and perceptual reasoning in hiding my dyslexia.”
In second grade, Tina continued to attend a public school, and her frustration reached its limit. “There was one worksheet where I was supposed to determine the number of different ways several hats could be stacked onto a person’s head – it took me over a week to complete, and my teacher wouldn’t help me or let me move on,” she recollects. “Then I was placed into my own reading group because I could not read at the same level as any of the other kids in my class. Finally, I began to be pulled out of the classroom to work with the special education assistant teachers.”
After this experience, Tina came home and told her parents that she knew she was different from the other students in her class, but she couldn’t figure out why. Her public school advised her parents to have Tina continue in the school’s education program; however, her parents compared her academic progress to that of her sisters and decided she needed more support.
Tina’s life changed when her parents enrolled her at The Windward School in third grade. “Attending Windward has had the greatest impact on my life to date. I question whether I would be able to read or pursue any form of higher education without the skills I garnered at Windward,” she affirms.
Tina attended Windward through fifth grade – a pivotal year not only for her eventual outplacement back into a mainstream setting but also for her discovery of science as a passion. Since reading and writing were more challenging, Tina found solace in science and math classes. “I think I grew the most with my fifth-grade science teacher,” she acknowledges. “She really encouraged my curiosity and always answered all of my questions with thoughtful answers. She never made me feel bad if they were really simple questions.”
Tina also credits Windward for providing her with skills to tackle not only educational issues but also life challenges as well. “Upon returning to the mainstream school system, my teachers were always impressed with my organizational skills, work ethic, and critical thinking skills – all of which I attribute to the lessons I learned at Windward.”
After leaving Windward, Tina continued her education at The Masters School where she continued to excel in math and science including a course load of chemistry and honors geometry as a ninth grader. “I enjoyed chemistry, particularly the lab component, in high school because of the way the data made the abstract concepts more concrete. I think my dyslexia makes me a more visual learner, so charts and graphs were always easier to understand and learn over written explanation,” she adds. While excelling academically, including being on the honor roll, she also did well in her extracurricular activities including gymnastics and springboard diving. All of this would lead to graduating cum laude from The Masters School in 2011 and being accepted into the chemical engineering program at Washington University in St. Louis. Tina also earned a place on the university’s swim team.
After many years of hard work, support, and dedication, Tina decided it was time to pay it forward to help others as she had been helped, by becoming an undergraduate notetaker in her biomedical ethics class. As a notetaker, Tina would capture information in the class on paper for other studentsunable to do so due to a physical or cognitive disability. She felt great in giving back to her community, but she knew there was more work for her to do to help others.
Tina decided to enroll in two undergraduate courses at Washington University dedicated to understanding disabilities in the context of society: “Images of Disability in Film and Literature” and
“Disability, Quality of Life, and Community Responsibility.” “These classes restructured my views about individuals with differences, including myself. Listening to guest speakers with disabilities and witnessing their pride inspired me to take ownership over mine,” she explains.
Today, Tina sees her dyslexia as a unique gift. Through her experiences and education, she has built deeper senses of creativity and pride and hopes to take this empathy with her as she moves on to medical school in the fall. “I take comfort in knowing that being dyslexic allows me to think differently than my peers. I believe the ability to visualize and think creatively are important skills that we as dyslexics should feel pride in,” she states. “I hope to continue to disseminate my positive perspectives on disabilities and help others embrace their differences, just as I did.”