An Interview with Elizabeth and her Mother, Alice
A former student who attended ACCESS Academy for one and a half years, Elizabeth Hoag is now a freshman at the University of Arkansas with a 4.0 grade point average and the goal of becoming an Air Force nurse practitioner who travels the world.
Eleven years ago, however, Elizabeth’s future didn’t look as promising. She was struggling to read.
“I remember third grade, sitting in class and being frustrated,” said Elizabeth, recalling a specific moment: “We were reading aloud, and the only way I was able to read was because I memorized the words. And my teacher was so proud of me, but I couldn’t read.”
Elizabeth’s mother, Alice, remembers the toll her daughter’s reading problems took on her emotional health.
“We tried all traditional teaching methods, and she thought she was a failure. She was developing low self-esteem. We were losing her.”
Alice described Elizabeth’s case as difficult to diagnose, describing her daughter as a child who never had a problem with comprehension or processing and who was using a large, complex vocabulary at a young age.
“She was good at compensating and would memorize words,” Alice recalls.
Alice initially received an evaluation that did not include direct observation of Elizabeth by the evaluator. She was told that, based on test scores, her daughter had ADHD. At that point, Alice sought out a child psychologist for a full evaluation that included a direct assessment, and Elizabeth was diagnosed with dyslexia. Soon after, Alice heard of ACCESS Academy through a client at the dental office where she worked and submitted an application for Elizabeth’s admission.
“Just visiting – I remember being so relieved,” said Elizabeth, reflecting on ACCESS. “I was able to focus on my reading. It just clicked.”
“We believe ACCESS changed the entire course of our daughter’s life,”
said Alice, she and her husband, Chris. “She was not here a month and she came home and said, ‘Mom, I don’t think I’m as stupid as I thought I was.’ And I wanted to cry and rejoice at the same time.”
To this day, if you ask Elizabeth who her favorite teacher is, throughout all her life, it’s ‘Ms. Candace Chappell, ACCESS Academy Coordinator,’” said Alice.
“Candace was like a second mom,” Elizabeth confirmed.
Chappell remembers her former student well.
“Elizabeth was intelligent but not performing to her potential,” Chappell said. “I don’t think she knew how smart she is.”
Chappell credits Elizabeth’s progress to the hands-on, multi-sensory curriculum and the phonetically based reading method used in ACCESS Academy instruction.
Elizabeth remembers her initial academic testing at ACCESS as being “fun. I felt as though people were listening to me for the first time.” She cited frequent one-on-one instruction and teachers with a “willingness to instruct her” as contributing to her success.
“I carried that encouragement with me ever since.”
Her mother agreed, noting Elizabeth’s subsequent academic accomplishments, including graduating from Little Rock’s Parkview High School 10th in her class of 240 students, with 24 college credits, including Advanced Placement credits.
Now, “she will try anything,” Alice said of her daughter. “She will try different things and think outside the box, and I really think it’s from being at ACCESS. She has a passion for people, and especially the underdog. She wants to be a nurse, and she wants to help people. I don’t think she would have these qualities if she hadn’t had the struggles she had.”
“ACCESS allowed me to advance at the speed I needed to advance. I was able to catch up on my reading, and they encouraged me to move beyond math basics,” said Elizabeth, who explained that, never having a problem with math, she was able to leave ACCESS Academy working math on a sixth grade level. “I remember thinking, ‘I can do this!’”
Throughout her interview, Alice continually expressed her desire to help other families who have children who are struggling with academics. Citing Elizabeth’s plummeting self-esteem as the “biggest red flag” that spurred her into action, Alice recounted the hurdles on the way to progress: Fighting to get help; navigating a proposal to have Elizabeth to repeat the second grade (“If that didn’t work the first time, then why repeat it a second time? Isn’t that the definition of insanity?!” Alice mused.); spending “tons of money” on commercial reading programs without progress; spending hours with her daughter to complete homework; and forcing extra reading time on a child who had come to hate reading.
Asked what advice she would give other families, Alice recommended “following your gut instinct” when parents feel their children aren’t achieving their potential, getting a comprehensive evaluation at the very beginning of the process and being an advocate for one’s child.
“I don’t hesitate to share the struggles we’ve been through. There is a stigma with disabilities within some families, and I’m so glad we don’t have that in our family, “ said Alice. “People need to know there’s hope. I want to help other people who are following in my footsteps.”
And what advice does Elizabeth have for other young people living with a disability?
“It is a fact, not a fear,” Elizabeth said of her diagnosis. “My advice is to not have fear. It is possible to learn. You might not be the best at it, but if you’re willing, you can learn. Seek all the options available. Also, enjoy life, and look at the big picture.”