Graduate proves doubters wrong

HCC program helped ease transition

May 21, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

When Alison Brown was in first grade, her teacher told her she was stupid and would never graduate from high school.

When she was in second grade, her teacher told her she would never go to college.

She showed them.

Yesterday, Brown was one of about 125 students to graduate from Howard Community College during a ceremony at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia and one of about 350 students receiving degrees.

For Brown, who is learning-disabled, the moment was especially sweet. The 20-year-old has dyslexia, a reading and writing disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. School has never been easy, but partly because so many people told her she couldn't, she was determined to go to college.

Two summers ago, Brown enrolled in Howard Community College's then-fledgling Project Access program, which helps physically impaired and learning-disabled students make the often difficult transition between high school and college.

She was in the first Project Access class and is one of the first from the program to graduate from HCC.

"Graduating is so exciting because they were wrong and I knew I could do it," she said.

Janice Marks, the interim vice president of student services at HCC, said many Project Access students, like Brown, are told they aren't college material. The program's job is to help them prove otherwise, she said.

"They are my heroes," Marks said.

Brown's mother, a teacher, recognized her daughter's dyslexia early, Brown said, but had trouble finding a school system that would accommodate her needs. Brown was home-schooled for five years and attended six or seven other schools -- some in Howard County -- trying to find one that would make learning easier.

None did until she started attending Wilde Lake High School as a sophomore.

Before that, she said, school was an ordeal. Despite always working hard and being quiet and well-behaved, she did poorly.

She cried a lot, she said, and never had many friends because it took her three times as long as other students to complete her homework. She had test anxiety, note-taking anxiety and low self-esteem.

"I would plead to my mother, `Take me out of school. I'm not learning anything. I'm not enjoying myself,' " she said.

Brown said that when her parents first suggested that she join Project Access in summer 1997, she balked.

"I thought why would I want to spend my summer going to classes?" she said. "I wanted to enjoy myself. So I wasn't too enthusiastic."

In the end, Project Access did the job it was set up to do, helping her navigate the campus and encouraging her to continue her studies.

"Project Access basically got me on the campus, got me to know where things were, who people were and where to go when I have a problem," she said. "It made it a lot less stressful."

Brown, who received a degree in liberal arts, had free tutoring. She had extended time on tests. She was allowed to record lectures and have other students take notes for her.

HCC also has electronic help for learning-disabled students such as a computer that types dictated material and a computer that reads books out loud.

After a summer in Project Access, Brown entered HCC in the Rouse Scholars program for talented high school graduates. Although it was a struggle, she said, she kept her grade point average above 3.0. She also was a mentor for Project Access, joined the environmental club, was elected vice president of the Student Government Association and was a part-time seamstress.

She was recently named an Outstanding Student of the Year by the Student Support Services Program at HCC.

"We're extremely proud of the young woman she has become," said Brown's mother, Diane Brown. "Not only her academic accomplishments, but more important who she is as a person, her giving to the community and that she's a good person. And that's more important than any stupid reward you can get."

Brown plans to travel to Europe this summer and then work for a year in the human resources section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington.

As soon as she has enough money, she said, she plans to do what her second-grade teacher told her she never would: get a four-year college degree.

Her ultimate goal is to become a special-education teacher.

"I know the stuff those kids have gone through," she said. "I've been there."

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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