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GED teacher guides students

Road to higher education

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POSTED: February 23, 2011 9:31 a.m.
Photo by Katie McGurl/

Students Brittany Rivera and Shaun Williams receive some pointers from Rick Smith during class at Richmond Hill Public Library.

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Do any of us really know what it means to take life’s “lemons” and “make lemonade” anymore? We hear the well-meaning proverb so often, we barely give it a second thought.

Stripped of its useful but trite metaphor, the phrase urges us to make positive use of negative experiences.

Rick Smith is very familiar with this concept.

His lemon: a learning disability. His lemonade: helping others with learning disabilities to tackle higher education.

Diagnosed with dyslexia early in life, Smith had a rough time throughout his academic career, especially in high school. Getting through college was a matter of discovering how to work around and compensate for his disability.

Now, as a General Educational Development (GED) instructor, he teaches classes at Pembroke and Richmond Hill public libraries for adult students seeking to take the GED test to get a high school-level degree.

Most of Smith’s students dropped out of high school—over 70 percent of them did so because of learning disabilities.

“A learning disability is a processing issue, not an intellectual one, so if you learn to compensate for that, you can do very well academically,” Smith explained. “I find that a vast majority of my students are intellectually very capable folks, it's just that for whatever reason, they got lost in the system.”

Smith helps his students to realize their potential.

“They have to learn how their own mind works and then really let their strong points compensate for their weak points.”

“I really think (being dyslexic) has made me more effective because I understand their pain,” said Smith. “You feel for them because you know they're trying as hard as they can, but they've been told from the time they were kids that they’re not trying hard enough or working hard enough, and the fact is it's just not that.”

Brittany Rivera, 19, of Richmond Hill, is currently prepping for the GED test under Smith’s tutelage. She plans to attend college and pursue a degree in child psychology or social work.

“This class has really helped me a lot. Mr. Smith is great with what he does and what he knows, and works with you one-on-one,” she said. “Being here has made me feel like I'm actually going to go somewhere in life.”

Shaun Williams, 32, also of Richmond Hill, said he wishes class met four days a week rather than just two.

“I enjoy the class. It’s a very good environment, and makes me feel like I’m doing something; it brings my self-esteem up,” said Williams.

“I've come to find that my greatest joy is seeing somebody succeed, somebody move to where they should be, where they belong,” Smith said. “There's no price tag on how you feel whenever you do this."

 

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