For years, I worried about my grandson Dion’s challenges with learning. He did not respond to reading phonics lessons, he had problems deciphering compound sounds, and he struggled to read and write. By seventh grade, I was so concerned about his delays that I put him in a new school: West Hawaii Explorations Academy, a STEM Charter School in Hawaii.
A teacher there, Erik Swenson, assessed Dion’s learning style and brought him to an exciting educational platform. Instead of holding Dion captive in a classroom, where my grandson had always felt unsure of himself, Mr. Swenson took Dion outside to study live marine animals on campus. Mr. Swenson taught my grandson how to make scientific observations after allowing him to visit and feed the animals.
When Mr. Swenson worked one-on-one with my grandson, he let him read about marine animals, particularly sharks, an exciting book subject my grandson willingly read out loud.
Dion not only became a better reader, but he learned to include scientific observations in his writing. Mr. Swenson gave Dion encouraging feedback rather than focusing on his mistakes whenever my grandson wrote a paper.
Mr. Swenson allowed Dion to experience regular outdoor movement while learning, and he integrated marine science projects into Dion’s classroom assignments. My grandson’s confidence was steadily growing as he read and wrote in ways he had never done before.
Dion joined in with his classroom projects with more enthusiasm, and he began to perceive himself as a capable learner. By the end of the school year, Dion had completed several reports, including marine life anatomical reports with drawings, history reports, science projects, and he won first place in Mr. Swenson’s creative writing contest.
Mr. Swenson changed the trajectory of my grandson’s learning. While Dion may have challenges in his future, he now knows how to rise above them and excel as a unique and capable learner. This is a lifelong lesson that only a gifted teacher can impart.
About Mr. Swenson
Mr. Swenson holds a master’s degree in special education from Chaminade University. He has been teaching for thirteen years. His interests are surfing, diving, fishing, and hiking. Mr. Swenson leads a surf team from West Hawaii Explorations Academy.