Published on 11/2/2011 12:44:00 PM
An innate ability to see the amazing possibilities in the children who are sometimes left in the shadows, along with a strong desire to bring change to the early education system, led Jessica Dunewood to the School of Education’s Master of Education, Early Intervention and Special Education Program. Jessica understands and has a special affinity for these children: she has personal experience with successfully overcoming learning issues and had a caring teacher to thank.
“I always enjoyed school and did very well. In fact, I was valedictorian of my high school class,” says Dunewood. “Yet, at the same time I knew something was different, it always took me much longer to take tests and complete assignments than my peers. That just became normal for me. I knew I was facing obstacles but I just continued to push myself harder to succeed.”
That was until she arrived at Pitt as a Gates Millennium Scholar. It was during her freshman year that she had problems finishing a chemistry test. Her professor realized that she knew the information, but that it was taking her longer to process. He directed her to some testing, where she learned she had a learning disability in the form of a reading and processing disorder.
“All my diagnosis means is that I process information slower than the average person, but I can still do the same quality of work, often times much better, as anyone else,” says Dunewood. “I really feel like my potential has been fully unlocked at the School of Education; everyone is so passionate about the individual qualities of each student and promoting their growth. There is a real ‘pay it forward’ mentality here, a strong commitment to helping others succeed.”
And that’s what Dunewood hopes to do for other children, especially those with significant special needs. She wants to change public perceptions of these children, be their champion, and give them a chance to excel well beyond their diagnosis. She believes that if you help them gain just one skill, one change in behavior, that so many windows can be opened.
“I love working directly with children and becoming completely engaged. And I love the idea of putting what I’m learning here at the School of Education into practice in the classroom. But I also like the idea of working behind the scenes to change things on a broader level,” continues Dunewood. “During my time here I feel like the faculty and administration have substantiated my leadership skills and made them stronger. I feel like I can accomplish anything.”
And Dunewood believes that what she’s learned at the School of Education, combined with her own experiences will also help make her a more effective educator.
“When I started getting treatment for my learning challenges I had so many people telling me that I shouldn’t be in college if reading and writing were difficult for me. But I showed them by graduating Magna Cum Laude despite my challenges,” concludes Dunewood. “It’s just not acceptable to let students slide by or give up. That’s what is so great about the School of Education – the teachers are always there to push and support you and help you become the educator you want to become.”