Deborah Bush learned something new last night.
She already knew that her son, Devalin Anderson, was a terrific senior linebacker for Woodlawn, one who coach George Goudy said, "might be one of the best defensive players I've coached."
She already knew that Devalin's dyslexia had gone undiagnosed in elementary school in Baltimore City and had caused him to be labeled a behavior problem. And that as a youngster, perhaps embarrassed by his learning disability, he had few friends and stayed in his room all the time, drawing.
She already knew that in one school he'd been placed in a class with borderline mentally retarded children. And that since reaching Woodlawn in ninth grade, when he was enrolled in a special education program that both challenged him and gave him individual attention, his work ethic and self-esteem had developed.
She already knew Devalin loved to draw. And that his mind had learned to compensate for its inability to quickly make sense of letters and numbers. "Over the years, I've learned that if you tell him something, don't think he'll ever forget it," Mrs. Bush said.
But, until she was asked about it, she didn't know that her son, who'd suffered and struggled so long with written words, had for the last two years been taking art courses at Woodlawn for the gifted and talented.
Devalin Anderson has come a long way. Goudy chose him to be a co-captain this year and said, "He's done a great job." Early on, it would have been difficult to mark him for leadership.
When he was in the third grade his family was told he was a behavior problem. "The way they were talking at school, I thought he was retarded," his mother said. Devalin was tested at the Kennedy Institute and found to be dyslexic. Dyslexia is an unexplained inability to learn to read in a conventional manner. He spent the next three years of school at the Kennedy Institute. "It didn't help," Anderson said.
Then came a difficult period in a Baltimore County middle school. "I was scared," Anderson said. "I didn't want to go up to the teachers and tell them. I was like ashamed. They'd ask me to read and I couldn't. They thought I was being stubborn."
When he got to Woodlawn, he began daily, individual one-hour sessions with a reading teacher. The curriculum for learning disabled was adapted to use special materials and books. Things started to get better for Anderson.
"When he first got here, he was a real low-profile kid," said Diane Coy, who teaches English to learning disabled students, and who taught Anderson last year. "He rarely made eye contact. Now, he says 'hi' to teachers in the hall."
In Coy's English class last year, "He did all the work everybody else did, but I'd read his tests and drills to him," she said. "He wasn't embarrassed about it.
"When he was absent, he'd borrow the tape of a book and take it home. He's a real hard worker. . . Devalin has a really good auditory memory. If he hears it, he remembers it. . . He wants the help; he appreciates the help. He's very self-motivated."
Reading is still difficult for Anderson, but his mind is sharp and capable. Recently, a group from Woodlawn visited the Baltimore Museum of Art to take in the Monet exhibit. On their return, one of the escorts, a math teacher, stopped by the teacher's lounge and asked if anyone knew Devalin Anderson.
Coy said she did. "She was very impressed," said Coy. "He had asked all these insightful questions of the tour guide about the paintings and the artist's technique."
Anderson brings that insight to the football field as well. "He has that uncanny instinct to find the ball," Goudy said.
At 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds, Anderson, who has 4.6 speed, would seem better suited for running back than linebacker. And last year he was, at least some of the time. This year, he still gets to play offense about 60 percent of the time, but as an undersized guard. "He's a hitter," said Goudy.
From his linebacker spot for the 7-2 Warriors, Anderson has accumulated 76 solo tackles, 49 assists and four sacks. But Goudy, who has coached at Western Maryland and Johns Hopkins, thinks Anderson, with his excellent speed, would be a fine safety in college, capable of playing Division II or even I-AA.
College? Why not?
Anderson has been talking about college since last year, his mother said. Goudy and other Woodlawn officials have been looking for schools with programs for learning disabled students. And arrangements are being made for Anderson to take the SATs orally, via tape recording.
"Mr. Goudy's been doing wonders for me, and I appreciate it," Anderson said. "He tries for me, and on the football field I try for him."