Education for people with Auditory Learning Disorders can often be very discouraging. Alyssa has an auditory learning disorder which means she “finds it difficult to stay focused on or remember a verbal presentation or lecture” and benefits from strategies that “show rather than explain.” She was a Scarborough High School student, frustrated with school, had developed a bad attitude and her grades had started falling. Traditional high school classes, for Alyssa and others like her, are difficult because of a heavier emphasis on the verbal (lecture). Thankfully Alyssa’s high school career did not end as a “drop-out” story but rather as a “Cinderella” story. In this case, Cinderella carries a blow-torch and is a welder.
All it took was one visit to Portland Arts and Technology High School (PATHS) where she visited a few programs, but the one that got her excited was welding. Alyssa found that she excelled in welding because of the “show me” nature that program. Alyssa could see what to do, then apply the learning. She became quite the proficient welder.
Learning welding ‘turned my brain back on”
During our interview, Alyssa told me she discovered she could “learn things through welding that I couldn’t figure out at high school like math and angles. It kind of turned by brain back on”. People who learn “non-traditionally” often feel “out of the loop” and get really frustrated. Tapping into her learning style gave her a feeling of accomplishment, confidence and empowerment. It also have her a career path.
Her attention to detail, perfection and doing things the “way they should be” caught the attention of her teacher, Mr. Presby. He was so impressed with her skills that he recommended her for a job at Jotul North America in Gorham, Maine. Alyssa was hired in high school, worked nights and went to school days. She became so immersed in her work at Jotul that she wanted to learn more. The more machines she learned to run (press brake, laser), and got proficient at to the point she could teach it others, the more money she earned. But the learning doesn’t end there for her.
Honey, I know what I want to do!
Besides being a hands-on learner who can pay attention to detail, she can credit herself with being a problem solver, too. Alyssa is the kind of person who sees a problem and doesn’t just walk away from it, she mulls it over. She solved a tricky problem Jotul had with one of their boxes. Alyssa told me that “a latch wasn’t moving correctly and we had taken 3 or 4 of them off the line and we were struggling to figure out what was wrong with them.” After thinking about the problem for some time, Alyssa recalls, “I went out during one of my breaks and looked at them and relieved a little pressure here and there and then the latch started moving again. I realized I was able to figure out that problem, that I enjoyed the process of problem solving. I actually went home, I looked at my boyfriend and said, ‘Honey I know exactly what I want to do!’ and we signed me up to go take the entrance exam that night.”
“If someone had told me that I was going to be a mechanical engineer 10 years ago I probably would’ve said, ‘What’s a mechanical engineer?’ ”
When I interviewed Alyssa in January 2013, she was halfway through her Pre-engineering program at Southern Maine Community College. From there she planned to get her degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Southern Maine. She hoped to eventually get her Master’s. Alyssa’s story is not unique. There are other’s out there like her. It is critical that teachers/guidance counselors and parents understand that education programs like PATHS and alternative pathways to success should be explored for all students (whether or not they have a learning disability). And this Cinderella’s “Prince Charming” is owning her own house at 24 and a limitless future. Sound like a dream come true? Introduce a 16 year old girl to a blow torch.
Do you have a similar story to share? I’d love to hear it! Leave a comment or email me!
Rachel Knight, creator and principal, Destination Occupation