Through most of elementary school I believed myself to be truly stupid. Unaware then that I have dyslexia, all I knew, and all my parents could see, was that I hated anything and everything to do with reading or writing. But instead of trying to force better grades out of me, whether by hiring a tutor or by piling on extra homework, they took a more accommodating approach, which proved even more effective.
When I was in third grade my dad brought me to a live marital arts performance. He knew I was struggling in class and hoped to find other ways to instill confidence in me. I fell in love almost instantly and joined a nearby martial arts school soon after. The daily routine of kicks and punches, I began to think, weren’t that unlike what I did in the classroom, only the mechanics of martial arts seemed to come a lot easier. Around the same time I also began to learn Chinese, which tipped my parents off to my dyslexia. Unlike English, where letters and words often became jumbled on the page, I always got the strokes right when I wrote in Chinese.
These were minor victories, but for me they helped reverse growing insecurities about my own ability to succeed in school.
My parents helped in other ways, too. I remember one night coming home late after working on a group project with classmates. I was starving; all I could think of was filling the nagging hole in my belly. As soon as I came through the door I was greeted by the crackling sound of food on the stove and the aroma of steaming rice in the cooker. Within minutes my mom had a table full of hot food laid out in front of me. In fact, our house maintained a regimented mealtime (with the exception of an occasional late night), which helped me structure the rest of my day. I always knew there’d be food waiting for me at home, and a ride to school in the morning.
Until high school, I assumed most students were ferried to and from school by their parents. Most of my friends were driven to school, so I never conceived of it as a luxury but simply part of the daily routine. Then came the day for my SAT. I saw a fellow student getting off the bus as I was being dropped off, and began to wonder about how much earlier than me she had to wake up to get to the test site on time. Not only that. While I sat in the relative comfort of my parents’ car, she jostled with crowds of mostly unruly kids before sitting for the four-hour long test.
Both of my parents are college teachers, and so their schedules allowed for at least one of them to be there for me most days. I know not all parents have the same luxury. Still, more than anything else, my parents’ attention to providing me with the basic comforts helped me stay focused and took the edge off of school, which in turn led to improved performance and better grades. Without that sense of security and comfort, I’m not sure I’d be where I am now, starting college.
Stephen Fong is a graduate of Galileo High School in San Francisco. He began college this fall at the University of Arizona, where he plans to major in East Asian studies. Fong participated in a joint summer internship for EdSource Today and New America Media.