The word is official. My younger daughter has been selected as a National Merit Scholar semi-finalist. National Merit scholars are chosen based on their scores on the PSAT test, taken their junior year of high school. It’s not only as test of how well you do, but how well you do compared to everyone else who takes the test that year.
My daughter is rather overwhelmed by this success. Her test results are a surprise to her. She says she doesn’t consider herself that smart. It’s made us pause to consider who gets the credit for her honor.
The populace first credits her. Yet we’ve always taught our children that intelligence is a gift from the Creator. We cannot take credit or be arrogant about how smart we are. It’s how we choose to develop what we have that counts. When I think of the obstacles she has overcome, it makes the award all the more precious. She was born legally blind with the same eye disorder as I have. Because of the vision problem, she was labeled “developmentally delayed” for the first five years of her life. She developed a speech impediment that plagued her and put her in speech therapy for the next six years. In the middle of that, her school consolidated with the school of the next nearest town, then we moved three times. Between third and seventh grade, she attended six different schools, in three different states. It’s not been easy, yet she excelled. Her success as a semi-finalist can be credited as much to her persistence as her intelligence.
People have told us we deserve a lot of credit as her parents. I shake my head and say, “We didn’t do anything special.” Yet I look at the little things we did, those things schools encourage parents to do in those parenting newsletters the schools end home and statistical surveys say guarantee success. We read to our girls every night, even after they learned to read. We ate dinner together as a family. We asked about their homework and discussed projects with them. We took them to museums and made learning opportunities wherever we went. When people asked me if I homeschooled, I felt like saying, “Yes. I homeschool from three to eight every afternoon. The rest of the day I send them to public school.” We created a safe environment in which to learn. I guess that was important to do.
Yet I know full well, I cannot take all the credit either. There is a host of teachers and support staff that have cheered my daughter on and taught her what I could not. It started with Debbie, a home teacher for the Special Education Infants and Toddlers program in Colorado. She gave us direction and hope as she worked with our one year old baby. There's the two eye surgeons and wonderful optometrists who have worked with her to restore her vision to a current 20/40 visual acuity. Then there’s Brenda, the teacher of the special preschool in Kansas, and Judy, the occupational therapist, who worked so patiently with her and gave us zounds of ideas to do at home to develop her fine motor skills. There is Mrs. L., her second grade teacher who bought her a disposable camera and gave her the assignment to keep a journal when we had to take a week off of school to travel to Arizona to say goodbye to my dying grandmother. There’s Mr. S. in fourth grade, who championed her and helped her through the difficult transition to a large multi-cultural school. There’s Mr. R., the most fantastic guidance counselor who has worked beyond his job description to get the special materials she needs for standardized test. I owe my child’s success to these precious dedicated people and so many more.
What makes a child succeed? Intelligence is only a tiny fraction of success. Persistence, a willingness to work, and a sense of purpose are key ingredients too. Moreover supportive parents and encouraging, creative teachers can truly make a turnaround difference. This award belongs to everyone who has had a part in sculpting her life. I’d like to change the words Hillary Clinton once quoted when she said, “It takes a village to raise a child” to “It takes a GOOD village to raise a child.” We’ve been blessed by a village spawning several states and our daughter’s current academic success is the result.
Where do we grow from here? We’ve told our daughter this award is a stepping stone. It’s a gift from God that He can use to bring her into where He wants her to be. It will increase her chance for some nice scholarships that will free her to pursue her studies without the distraction of a part time job. It will move her into special academic opportunities that will prepare her to reach even higher levels in her chosen career. And each step allows her to be in a unique place where she can shine for Jesus. With her compassionate heart and her passion for evangelism, I have no doubt she’ll use whatever opportunities God presents to her.