Kristin Anderson, right, is with her sister for "sibling weekend" at Grand Valley State University. Kristin is a real-life refutation of the myth that private schools do not serve children with special needs.
When private school first-grader Kristin Anderson would come home from school, she would refuse to play with her friends. Instead, she would curl up on the living room couch. And when the next morning came so did Kristin's stomach aches. Monday through Friday, this was the pattern of Kristin's young life. Concerned that there might be something seriously physically wrong with Kristin, her parents took their daughter to see a pediatrician. He found no physical reason for Kristin's symptoms.
However, the doctor recommended that Kristin see an educational psychologist. Through testing Kristin, the psychologist found the answer.
"I'm glad we had her tested by the psychologist," says Kristin's mother, Kathy. "We found out that Kristin struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder, dyslexia, and has difficulty comprehending math and written language."
For many students like Kristin, a diagnosis of a special learning need means that they often must leave their private schools to attend public ones so that they can get the help they need. Although private schools want to provide help to students like Kristin, many of them do not offer costly special education programs.
Fortunately for Kristin, that was not the case. Her Lutheran elementary schools did provide special education help through their partnerships with Lutheran Special Education Ministries (LSEM).
LSEM is a 126-year-old nonprofit organization that provides special education teachers to Christian schools like Kristin's. In this way, students with special learning needs can get the help they need and also receive a Christian education.
All throughout grade school, LSEM resource room teachers helped Kristin learn techniques so that she could cope with her special learning need.
They also found innovative ways to teach her basic skills. For example, when it came to helping Kristin improve her mathematics skills, her resource room teacher gave Kristin the homework assignment of creating her own recipe, one that she still enjoys making today. By creating this recipe Kristin learned about fractions.
Kristin admits she didn't always appreciate her LSEM resource room teachers. "I don't know why, but I fought with the teachers. I didn't get along with them at first." However, she adds, "We found our way to work together."
Gradually, under the loving care of her special educators, Kristin not only learned how to cope with her special learning needs, enabling her to enjoy school, but also began to understand another truth. "My teachers told me that I am a child of God. I just learn differently."
Kristin's teachers also taught her how to become her own advocate so that she would continue to receive the special help she needed.
"At first I was embarrassed by being different than everyone else. For example, I had to have someone explain a question to me or I would always need extended time to take a test. That made me insecure. However, my teachers had confidence in me and they knew I could do it. That gave me the confidence that I could handle it by myself. In high school I got pretty good at advocating for myself. Then before I began my freshman year, I did all the talking when my parents and I met with my professors. Now I know that I learn differently but so what? I know I can learn so let's get on with it."
This past spring, Kristin successfully completed her freshman year at Grand Valley State University. She's looking forward to returning in the fall to all her classes, activities, and friends.
"As I've gotten older, I've realized how important God is, how important your values are. I see the connection with everything. God is the main reason why I was able to make it."