My long history with Dearborn Academy began when Mrs. Torlone, my third grade teacher in Newton, told my mother “if you don’t get Nanci out of here and find a program to address her learning problems, she will never learn to read.”
The diagnostic center’s assessment was that I was an “8 y/o child with above average intelligence, but unable to read.” Today I would have been diagnosed as dyslexic.
I first came to Dearborn in 1958 as a fourth grader, and that is when my life changed—I finally started to read. I will always be grateful for both my mother’s love and support and to Dearborn for instilling in me, for the first time, the feeling of self-worth, which has stayed with me throughout my life.
The Dearborn of 1958 served students with all types of disabilities, but we were all treated with respect and dignity. I loved feeling needed and quickly became the teacher’s helper and learned how to reach out and help others. Mrs. Margaret Gifford, the director of the school at the time, was my teacher and my mentor. She taught me how to use my strengths and utilize strategies to improve my weaknesses. Even at a young age, I knew I found my niche in life through my positive experiences at Dearborn. I became a teacher helping kids in need.
Later on, I went on to college and graduate school, earning degrees in special education and was teaching when I replied to an ad in the Boston Globe for a “special needs” teacher for one of Lesley College's Lab Schools. It was not until many years after I had been teaching at Dearborn that I shared that I had also been a student there.
In 1980 I took a brief leave of absence and went to New York to pitch some ideas for toys for children with special needs where I also met and married a wonderful man. In 1982 I was honored to join the Schools for Children Board of Trustees and the Dearborn Advisory Board.
Recently I was asked why I have stayed on the board so many years. I answered that my connection to the school was unique. In the 51 years, since I was a student at Dearborn, I have seen so much growth in our wonderful reading programs, top quality arts and shops and our exceptional curriculum. As important to me now, as it was to that 9 year old student who could not read, is one constant, which is the essence of this school - Dearborn provides the gift of hope and restores its students’ belief in themselves; providing the tools necessary to overcome their struggles and succeed.
Every time I hear a parent’s story of frustration and dismay before they found Dearborn, every time I hear a student praise our community for believing in them, every time I see a student’s frustration replaced by a ray of hope, my heart is filed with pride and support for Dearborn’s mission. I hope today yours will be, too.