LEARNING HIS WAY: How Tucker Dordevic came to accept his learning differences

first_imgUPDATED: February 10, 2019 at 4:23 p.m.Tucker Dordevic sat upstairs confused because his tutor had left without having taught him anything. His mother, Kathi, didn’t tell her son why his teacher quit on him, but Dordevic would come to understand. The third grader’s tutor was one of many educators who didn’t know how to help him. The tutor wanted an easy fix and suggested meditation because Kathi’s son was “unteachable.”“‘He’s not going to learn,’” Kathi remembered hearing through her own tears. “‘Just give up.’”Throughout Dordevic’s entire academic career, he’s battled attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, which for Dordevic can mean reading letters or numbers out of order. As a sophomore midfielder on No. 10 Syracuse, Dordevic doesn’t seek regular academic assistance anymore, but it hasn’t always been that way.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAt 3 years old, he broke his leg jumping off his brother’s bed and chose to crawl across the floor rather than sit in his wheelchair. A few years later, at about 7 or 8, he played wall ball in his room, leaving holes that weren’t filled until he left for college.Around that time, as other students read in the first and second grade, Dordevic struggled to read at all. Dordevic was identified with Dyslexia, a learning disability that effects one out of the every five students, according to the Dyslexia Center of Utah. It was the first indicator of a daunting realization: If Dordevic wanted to succeed in school, he’d need different learning methods than the other students.“Instead of really trying to help me to learn the way I learn, everybody kind of wanted to mainstream (me) into helping me learn,” Dordevic said. “Well, not helping me learn, but trying to teach me the way to learn the way I couldn’t … it just never clicked.”,The needs of learning challenged students aren’t met in many public schools, a 2017 American Public Media report found. In early elementary school, Dordevic took the highest prescription of Adderall, the prescription drug used to treat ADHD, and he remembered feeling like a “zombie.” He never felt that the medication helped him, it just prevented his teachers from being distracted, he said.Dordevic fell behind in reading. He failed to memorize math facts. Teachers sent him to the resource room. For a student that just wanted to fit in, it pushed him further away. So, Dordevic rebelled.On Scantron multiple choice tests, he filled them out carelessly. A, B, C or D — the choices themselves didn’t matter as long as he finished the tests on pace with his classmates to show he was just as smart. His grades suffered.Kathi and Dean, Tucker’s father, tried a “billion tutors,” Kathi said. They forced him into summer school, repeatedly trying new programs. Everyone always had a new strategy. He traced three-letter words like “dog” — which sometimes became “God” in his head — with his finger in the air. As Dordevic drew words, he thought about his friends, probably playing outside. He hated school.“These kids initially think they’re stupid,” Dean said. “Or, they think there is something wrong with them. And so it becomes a cascading problem where they lose their self-confidence or they lose their self-esteem.”,In the summer after seventh grade, Dordevic attended a program at Edison High School in Oregon. For the first time, he and Kathi felt he was benefiting from individual attention. The faculty forced the students to take responsibility, organize themselves and customize a learning plan that suited their needs. Kathi, a self-described helicopter parent, felt like she could step back.Named after Thomas Edison — the famous inventor who struggled with dyslexia — the high school emphasizes a one-to-nine student-to-teacher ratio, which Dordevic’s brother had taken advantage of for math classes. The school shared a campus with Jesuit, the school his brothers attended, and provided the option for students to take classes at both while benefiting from conjoined extracurriculars.An English teacher had Dordevic drop down for push-ups if he was antsy, while others had fidget tools. Some classes provided a pedal attached to the desk so students could pump their leg while taking notes. If there wasn’t a pedal, he went to the office where, the school’s then-assistant director Jason Wold said, most of the time he just needed a break to refocus. Sometimes, a five-minute walk sufficed. When Dordevic returned, notes were available so he wouldn’t fall behind.In choosing Edison his freshman year, Dordevic received individualized attention. The faculty stressed self-preparation and allowed for oral multiple choice exams, and additional time during tests, while he played for a top lacrosse program in the state. For once, it was the school Dordevic wanted.“Tucker, growing up, had a lot of experiences with teachers and tutors that were not positive,” Wold said. “So, we had to work on forming that relationship with him, understanding that we were there to help support him.”,While the new accommodations helped occupy Dordevic’s hyperactive mind, his dyslexia provided a more direct challenge. He always struggled to read. Dordevic used a final period of the day reserved for extra help to stay up with school work. In a government class, he studied more to retake tests. In math, he completed extra problems from that day’s lesson. At Edison, the accommodations didn’t make Dordevic feel isolated. He embraced the work and steadily improved.With a few weeks remaining in the first semester of his freshman year, Dordevic talked with a lacrosse coach about his future. He doesn’t remember which coach, but the premise of the conversation — school needed to be as important as lacrosse — sparked a change. At that point, Division-I lacrosse was achievable athletically, but he’d need better grades to qualify for scholarships. He sought the help he once feared. He accepted his differences.“Before, I’d use my learning differences as a crutch,” he said. “Like, I’m not good at reading. But then, after that, it was like, I can’t really.”In 2015, as Edison teacher Colin Livesey explained his geometry class to a room full of students’ parents, Kathi raised her hand. She figured her son, now a junior, might get distracted and miss information, so she asked if someone would take notes.“Tucker is our note taker,” Livesey said.“Tucker? The note taker?” Kathi thought to herself. “That is amazing.”At Edison, Dordevic found he had to take notes, or he wouldn’t pay attention. It’s a part of what he and his former teachers describe as “his program.” Each student learns differently and requires different needs, and for Dordevic, it meant note-taking, studying well in advance and a consistent, regimented routine, which he continues at Syracuse.In the fall of his senior year, Dordevic spoke to a room of several hundred people at a fundraiser for Edison.Dordevic joked about the size crowd, about 10 times what he expected. He smiled and introduced himself and defined his learning differences.“I’ve struggled with school most of my life,” Dordevic said.The kid who was once told he’d never learn rattled off an eight-minute speech about his struggles in school and how Edison changed that. He discussed academic challenges, self-advocating and embracing dyslexia.It’s a message Dordevic spreads often now. He opens up about dyslexia and ADHD in interviews. He acknowledges Edison, not Jesuit, as his high school on team rosters. And when he’s home in Oregon he visits other students with differences like his. Younger kids admire Dordevic because he has learning differences. There isn’t a fix, and he’s come to accept that.“Just keep trying in school,” Dordevic says. “You’ll eventually figure out a way that is best for you.” Cover photo by TJ Shaw | Staff PhotographerCLARIFICATION: In a previous version of this post the graphic that estimated the percentage of children in the U.S. without dyslexia was not represented proportionately.,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.last_img

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