Making the most of education

Tom Forstrom

The following article appeared in the Statesman Journal, January 13, 1995. Reprinted with permission.


Sometimes success comes overnight. Sometimes it comes only after a long, hard battle.

It came the hard way for Pat Hampton and her son, Mike Kuntz.

The only reason she and her son tell this story -- which has his approval -- is that perhaps other students and their parents in the same situation will learn something from it.

They knew early on there was trouble brewing. They didn't know the cause of it, but it was coming for sure.

Her son, she says, is very bright.

But when he was in the third grade, she says, "He already knew that he was different and could not do as well as his peers because he was stupid and lazy."

That description is how he perceived himself, and how others, including teachers, perceived him as well.

While winding his way through the education system, he often failed. And his failure led to more trouble. Hampton says, "He became a behavior problem that responded to nothing."

He would get into trouble, and the school would call. Almost every day they called, Hampton says.

What no one knew, until that year, was that her son had Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, and with it came the learning and behavior problems.

The trouble continued at school. Hampton writes: "Anger was showing up in playing with the neighborhood kids and he was spending more and more time in the principal's office as well as spending recesses inside for punishment. In the fifth grade he hit a teacher on the playground and I knew I was losing him and at this rate he would be in Maclaren by age fifteen."

That didn't happen. Hampton, who is a chemical dependency therapist, formed an intense battle plan. She worked with Mike every day on school work, got him talking books, rented educational videos, visited school regularly, enrolled him in a structured private school for two and a half years, made sure he earned his grades, made him accountable for his action, took him on educational trips all over the state and helped him enroll in Chemeketa Community College classes.

Most of all, she says, "I taught him that there is always a way."

It worked.

Now he is 17, a junior at McNary, and has good grades. In fact, Hampton says, a C grade is upsetting to him. As a freshman he was on the honor roll with a 3.8 GPA. He's had no trouble with the law, isn't gang affiliated, is drug and alcohol free, and is a responsible driver, his mother says.

When he entered high school, he had 12 credits in math, electronics and physical education from Chemeketa Community College, and they translated into high school credits. He has passed all of his competencies, including reading and writing.

He also maintains a saving account for college, and has been accepted into a University of Washington program called Do-It for high school students who have disabilities but are gifted in math, engineering or science.

Children and students with learning disabilities, Hampton says, are treated unfairly, teased and "taught to fail."

But she and her son countered the challenges.

Mike was asked to write down his assessment and, hoping that his story will help others, wrote: "The most important is a family that did not give up and did not let me give up. They loved me and believed that I could overcome my handicaps. They were willing to help me when I needed it."

"I learned that I was smarter than lots of kids, but I learn differently. I am not ashamed of how I learn."

He said he was told some classes would be too hard for him, and that he wouldn't make it. But, her writes, "I have been very successful."

His mother says, "Believe in the child -- always. Rethink what parenting really means. Advocate for the child when he needs it and back off and let him advocate for himself when he can."

Hampton has a set of beliefs, ideas and recommendations that have come from helping her son through the educational system, and she said she feels sorry for those who don't know what is wrong with them and why they are failing. She conducts a support group for other parents with similar problems through The Heart Center in Salem, Oregon."

And she reminds us: "Remember, whatever teachers and parents feel, the children feel a thousand times greater."