How I Graduated Study Skills

It was seventh grade when I took my first test. Up until that point in my life I had gone to a progressive school; where we did not have homework, grades, or tests. We didn’t even have grade levels, we had north group (first grade through third grade), south group (fourth grade through fifth grade), and middle school (sixth grade through eighth grade). So, when I decided to go to a public school in the middle of seventh grade, a placement test was the first time I ventured out of my very sheltered bubble.

Going to a school with thirty two kids in it, that also had an atmosphere that was very uplifting, so I went into the my first ever test with an attitude that it was no big deal. I felt like I would pass and be at the same level as my soon to be peers. During the test I felt confident, but if felt weird, abstract and almost not right knowing that, that test was how someone would judge my intelligence. Waiting to hear how I did on the test brought with it no anxiety, I was sure I passed. Turns out, I didn’t . It was the only test I had ever taken and I had failed, terribly.

The first day of eighth grade brought with it more testing. This time I didn’t have the feeling that it was no big deal that I brought to the last test. The first test completely obliterated my confidence and made me feel dumb. Going from feeling like I was smart and being shot down by a test took away any feeling of self confident I had towards school. So for the next test I just put down any answer in efforts to get the test over with.

I tested into a program called Office Hours and needed to get an IEP. Office Hours was a class one take when other kids are taking spanish. As and this made me feel completely alienated and different this was especially difficult because I was already dealing with the culture shock that came from going to a progressive school to a public school.

Eighth grade came and went, and I was on to the next chapter of my life, high school. I started high school with the attitude that I was dumb, and at this point I had just accepted it. I was done with the internal turmoil that I use to feel when I would think I was smart or at the level as everyone else, but be in special classes. So, when I got to the office hours of high school, which was now called study skills I didn’t want to be there, but I didn’t have any other options so I stepped into the small class room and sat down at the medium sized circle table and waited for the teacher. The room was located in the oldest part of the school, the walls were stamped copper but painted over white. The floors were wood and coming apart in places you couldn’t take three steps without it squeaking.

After waiting for what felt like forever the teacher came in. Her name was Ms. Halnon. She was a short lady with blond hair down to her shoulders. She was from New Jersey, she had lost the accent but still had the loud booming voice associated with the area. She sat down and told me and the other two students that were in the class what it would be like. She said it was just a place to do homework and she was there if one of us needed help.

In my mind the first day went pretty well. I was at ease with the class even though it wasn’t ideal, at least she wasn’t going to be up in my space trying to micromanage everything I did. This attitude continued for the first week or so until Ms. Halnon stopped me after class. She told me to wait a minute, and explained to me, due to my let’s say subpar placement test I now had to practice my reading fluency with her twice a week in the hall. This was mortifying. Not only did I not like telling people that I had to take study skills, now I had to sit in the hall and do simple reading exercises with my teacher.

I was furious and blamed Ms, Halnon. I had never loved reading up to this point but now it was one of my least favorite things to do. I lived in what felt to be a never ending cycle of study skills, The place where I was embarrassed by using what looked reading cards made for fourth graders.

I worked with Ms. Halnon daily, and it did help my reading but being a defiant ninth grader I never went along with it because I never felt it was necessary. We once argued about the purpose of the class because I would rather work on homework than be embarrassed by my study skills teacher. The argument was soon ended when detention was threatened. She never followed through with any threats, she treated me differently.

Ms. Halnon pushed me to do better, she easily could have given up, but she never did; she always advocated for me in any situation where I needed something. This always confused me. I always knew she did it, but never knew why she stuck up for the kid who made her day harder than it had to be.

The year carried on with the cycle of reading until the end of freshman year, which was when the reading fluency lessons stopped. Sophomore year, I had a different study skills teacher, but junior year, I was right back where I started with Ms. Halnon. Junior year was different, I didn’t have the reading fluency; I still didn’t like the class or reading but it was bearable. At the start of the second semester, I got tested again for reading and writing. I went in with the attitude that I went in with for all the other tests: that I was dumb, wouldn’t pass, and would just embarrass myself for a third time, but this time that didn’t happen.

I passed that test, and passed it with flying colors. Not only was I at the same level as my peers and didn’t need to take study skills anymore, but I was the first person Ms. Halnon had ever seen test out of their IEP. At that moment all the resentment I had towards Ms. Halnon vanished; I saw what she did for me as a service for the first time.

The last day of my junior year and the last day of her career due to her retiring she hugged me and and said, “We made it kid.” Senior year, I got into college and the first thing my mom did was hug me and said, “You did it buddy.” The word choice of my mom made me think of that day with Ms. Halnon, the day, “we made it”.

This was the first time I felt smart again, I finally felt like I did In the beginning of seventh grade even though I graduated from study skills in school, I never truly felt smart until that moment of realization with my mom. But in that moment I realized I did make it.

Throughout my first semester of college I have reflected on the way I read and learn, I think of the impact that Ms. Halnon had on it. I think of the effort and time she put into my education. I can not think of where I might be without the lessons that I learned through my three years of study skills.