Young people and students
Kind, patient teachers who instinctively know how to bring out the best in children are such treasures. They are role models to young minds and their power has the capability of impacting entire journeys through life.
Heather Seurkamp is among them. Her aunt, Terri Hogan, introduced us. Heather is a sixth grade teacher at St. Clement Elementary School in St. Bernard. The more that I spoke with her and learned her story, the more I came to realize her gift.
Heather thought back to how an event in her high school ultimately led to her career path. Like so many other seniors, she really had no idea what she wanted to pursue after graduation until that fateful day. She was doing work study for her favorite English teacher. When Heather walked into the classroom, she found a note instead of the woman she was there to assist. “Her daughter was sick and she couldn’t be there,” she told me. “She had written on the board that I know what to do and I could lead the lesson.”
And lead the lesson is exactly what Heather did. “I felt like they listened to me. They were raising their hands and asking questions and trusted me to know the answers.”
The rest, you could say, is history. I have a feeling Heather is the type of teacher who inspires her students to want to succeed, to have giving hearts, and to be all they can be. After reading my interview, you can see for yourself.
Lisa: Why do you enjoy teaching the sixth grade specifically?
Heather: I have two younger brothers and a sister and so always get along with younger kids. I like their outlooks on life. Sometimes adults can be jaded and kids are happy go lucky. They are just goofy. They are going through puberty and trying to figure out what they want in their world. I really like this age group because they are trying to figure out their world.
Lisa: What do you think are some of your qualities that make for a good teacher?
Heather: Adaptability is one. As a teacher you have to be able to adapt and take things for what they are and move along. With kids, so many things can happen. If you can’t put out fires quickly, chaos breaks out. It is also hard a lot of times being able to motivate kids and so you have to find a way to connect with every single child, and that begins with really listening to them. You have to be willing to get to know, care about them a lot as a person, and ask them about their life.
I was an athlete through school so I love going to my students’ sports games. If they are in the school play then I go to that to be supportive. Some students may live with grandparents or other guardians because their parents are on drugs, etc. and they need a dependable adult in their life.
Lisa: You get your students involved with community service. Can you tell me more about that?
Heather: Every grade level in my school does their own service learning project. This year our sixth and seventh grade social studies unit connected with the Ed Colina Foundation, helping to raise money and awareness for children and families in Kenya. Their Foundation is dedicated to building schools, houses, and churches in a small village of Africa. Parents in that village make hand crafted pieces that Ed brings to the United States to sell through schools here. A man whose education was supported by the Foundation came and spoke to us. Hearing about how students in Africa didn’t have chalkboards or chairs to sit in at school changed our students’ perspectives on things.
Our students made handmade brochures about the beaded animals and jewelry, and then they volunteered during their recess and at events to sell the items. They used their math skills to make an inventory of the items and did a lot of advertising. I just actually told my students today that they raised over $2000 and there was a lot of clapping and high fiving.
Lisa: Have you seen how participating in that community service has impacted your students beyond the project?
Heather: Doing community services has affected the general attitude in my classroom that my students share amongst each other. I have seen more random acts of kindness and children who seem more grateful for the opportunities and the resources that are available for them here at St. Clement.
Lisa: Have you had any students give back to you?
Heather: I have and it means a lot. I’ve had them remember my birthday by leaving me a post it note saying ‘have a nice day’. Some kids may draw her pictures. I treasure every one of those notes. It is really special when a 12 year old draws you a picture. I have them in an album and hang some up.
Lisa: What is the most rewarding part of being a teacher for you?
Heather: For me, what is most rewarding is just being a part of creating who a student is as a whole. I like being a part of the experience of them growing in to people who care about other people. I like sharing my passion for social studies and reading. I love recommending books and inspiring them to travel.
Lisa: What is some advice that you give to your students about life?
Heather: There is so much but my most consistent advice is about choices as your choices reflect the kind of person that you are. You have to make good choices. I am always reminding them of that.
Lisa: Where does your inspiration come from for you?
Heather: It is part of my family make up. My grandparents are the kindest people you could ever meet and that is the environment in which I grew up. My dad has always said that you have to look out for people like us because you never know who you will meet.
My work on the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival organized by LADD, Inc. has connected me with some pretty incredible people in our region. Amy Delgado is one of them.
ReelAbilities is about bringing people together to learn from and about each other and to celebrate our differences that together make us stronger. Amy is a mother to two beautiful children who I got to meet at our Festival Launch Party earlier this year. Our purpose hits home personally for her as her every day involves striving to create solutions for encouraging kids, and in particular, her daughter’s growth.
Amy was 20 weeks pregnant when she and her husband got the news that her daughter would be born with Myelomeningocele (more commonly known at Spina Bifida). The years that have followed have been met with creative problem solving, working through challenges, much love, and sharing their lessons with others. Amy has a blog called Ability Hacker (named, she said, because, “ a ‘good hack’ is slang for a clever solution to a problem, and ‘hacking’ is the act of creating that solution.”) where she shares her lessons and insights with other parents of children who have disabilities.
I wanted to learn more about Amy and her insight that I think all of us can learn from.
Lisa: What are some things you would like to see parents teach their children about kids who have disabilities?
Amy: There are three things that, in my ideal world, parents would teach their kids about disability.
1. In some ways we are different, but in so many ways we are the same.
Look for the similarities rather than the differences. Maybe your kids and mine both love ice cream, or maybe both have curly hair. Everyone has things that are different about them – but we also have a lot that is the same. Finding sameness breaks down the barrier disability sometimes presents.
There is a fantastic episode of Daniel Tiger in which Prince Wednesday’s cousin Chrissie (who has a disability) comes to visit, and the topic of how to approach kids with disabilities is beautifully presented. The little jingle sings, “In some ways we are different, but in so many ways, we are the same” (Episode 133: Daniel’s New Friend/Same and Different). I’d love every parent to watch this episode with their kids.
2. Approach kids with disabilities & say hello.
When we go into a store or a restaurant, we draw a lot of attention. We come in with a determined, curly haired charmer whose leg braces are covered in butterflies and who is usually gleefully chasing her little brother around while using bright blue arm crutches. Adults react in one of two ways – they either smile at us and comment on how cute our kids are, or they look away / see their kids staring and shush them.
PLEASE please (please) do NOT shush your kids. Please don’t look away. Please DO smile and say hello. Please DO encourage your kids to come up and say hi and talk to my children. It is totally ok if they ask any questions. We know they won’t have the perfect words to ask what they want to know, and that’s ok. It really is.
By letting kids be curious and ask questions it teaches them that it’s OK to approach people with a disability. It opens a dialog and creates a conversation. When a parent shushes a child and encourages them to look away – that parent is inadvertently teaching their children that disability is something that is wrong, and that should be separate from the rest of the world. Kids with disabilities want to be included. We, as parents, need to model this inclusion and openness and kindness to all people, including those who have a disability.
I know it’s scary to let you child open up their mouth and not be able to control what comes out … but trust me… it’s so much better than the alternative.
3. Get creative and figure out ways to include children with disabilities in play.
Kids with a disability face a lot of barriers. For my daughter, who was born with Spina Bifida, it can be hard to figure out how to play with other kids because (1) she comes with equipment which is a physical barrier, and (2) she can’t run or climb as fast as others.
Usually, figuring out how to be included in play is left squarely on the shoulders of the child who has the disability (the one who is already trying to surpass so many additional obstacles vs. a typically developing child). This often results in the child playing by themselves, and missing out on the important lessons learned during free play and interaction with other kids.
I would love it if parents & teachers would work with all kids to help them figure out new and different ways of playing that are more inclusive. ALL kids (not just the ones with a disability) will benefit from learning these skills – it teaches kids to think critically, to be creative, and to build a resilient spirited approach to life. As with most things, when be figure out how to be inclusive, it benefits EVERYONE.
Lisa: What has been one or some of the greatest gifts of being a parent for you?
Amy: One of the greatest gifts I received is simply getting to BE a parent. It is a role I’ve always wanted to be in, but the path to get here was quite a bit longer than I expected. I was 30 years old when I finally met the right man for me, and then our road to becoming parents was bumpy and wrought with unexpected twists and turns. We eventually found our way to fertility treatments, and then to IVF, which finally (finally!) brought us Lily and Ben.
Now that I am a parent, the experience has given me so much. A few of the biggest gifts that come to mind are:
• Becoming a part of multiple communities that I would not have connected with otherwise.
• The joy from noticing & celebrating every little accomplishment.
• I found a strong passion for helping parents / children with disabilities.
• Laughing (so much)!
• Bursting love (especially when one of my kids leans over and whispers, out of the blue, “I love you Mommy.”)
Lisa: What is a life lesson you have learned from your children?
Amy: The most important life lesson I’ve learned is how important it is to build resilience within ourselves and within our kids.
Resilience is defined as: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” The tricky thing about resilience, though, is that in order to build it, we must fall down. We must be given the opportunity to fail. We must face tough times. And when we face these difficult things, we then have to practice getting back up and trying again. We have to practice recovering with grace. We have to practice looking back and learning from what we did before. We have to practice finding the positive in the experience of failure, and feeling pride in ourselves when we find ourselves back in fighting shape after going through such difficulty.
Sometimes, resilience means making a brave choice or accepting that what we thought we wanted isn’t really what is best for us. Sometimes it means pivoting and finding a different way. Sometimes it means looking for new and creative ways to solve the challenge facing us.
Lisa: What is a piece of advice you received that has impacted your life?
Amy: We received Lily’s diagnosis of Spina Bifida when I was 20 weeks pregnant. As we tried to process the diagnosis and all of the information flying at us, our thoughts turned to the drastic changes we we would need to make in our lives in order to take care of her. We started talking about selling our house and downsizing to something smaller, about one of us quitting our jobs to take care of her, and started considering moving back to Florida to be closer to family.
A couple weeks later we found ourselves sitting across from a developmental pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s. As we talked, the conversation turned to what we needed to do to prepare for Lily’s arrival. When I asked if we should be trying to make an extreme life makeover in the few months we had before Lily was born, the doctor calmly said, “Why don’t you let her show you what she needs once she gets here?”
We talked for quite a while, and it felt like taking a breath for the first time in weeks. It was also the first time I’d thought about things through that lens – letting HER show US what she needs when the time comes. This advice continues to resonate today. Lily is now 5 years old and sometimes I find myself planning too far out – like thinking about whether she will go to college and what type of accommodations she’ll need if she does! When I start down this path, I remind myself of this advice, and reel myself back into the present.
Oh, and by the way … my husband and I both still work, and we did not sell our house or move to Florida. As it turned out, our ranch style house is perfectly suited to our needs!
In all of my years of work for social service agencies, I have seen so many individuals and families affected by generational circumstances. There have been those who were born into environments surrounded by poverty, abuse or other hardships; and who have followed in the path of the generations before them, and then there are those who find their inner strength and their personal success, and seek opportunities to lift up others.
Rosemary Oglesby-Henry understands better than many. When she became pregnant at age 16, she was to become one of many teen parents in her family including her grandmother, her mother, her sister and her brother. But Rosemary was determined to stop that pattern with her. “You change it by saying, there is a problem,” she told me, “then you can act to change the problem. And I have. I am the last person in my family to be a teen parent.”
And she is the first in her family to pursue a career and education, earning her Master of Science Degree in Organizational Leadership from Mt. St. Joseph University. She did all of that while working through so many other personal setbacks – financial, medical and family hardships, not to mention the difficult challenges that come with being a young parent on her own.
Rosemary has a quote she came up with that speaks to how she sees and lives life: “No one can beat you down lower than you, but no one can lift you up higher than you.”
Life is very different for Rosemary these days. Now 37, a proud mother to a 16 year old son and a daughter who is a junior at Muskingham University, and a loving wife to Charles, Rosemary looks for opportunities to give back. And one of the greatest avenues for that has been her new organization, Rosemary’s Babies, that offers 24 hour confidential support to teenage parents. Young mothers and fathers can reach out to her, or one of her team members (many of whom were teen parents themselves), through social media or by calling 513-813-TEEN.
Rosemary serves on numerous boards and committees including the Board of Tender Mercies, Inc. and the Mt. St. Joseph University Alumni. She has been recognized many times including in 2016 with the Withrow University Distinguished Humanitarian of the Year Award, as a Cincinnati Business Courier 40 Under 40, and as a Gateway College Outstanding Supervisor of Human Services Students.
I asked her a few more questions.
Lisa: What was your inspiration behind starting Rosemary’s Babies?
Rosemary: I am a huge philanthropist, and am passionate about giving back. My daughter is my big inspiration. She tells many stories of her mom that are so cool. “My mom didn’t know what to do all the time but she didn’t give up on me,” she says. I always tell her that, that I didn’t give up on them. Teen parents need to understand that. Nobody knows all the answers. Within my program we are attacking true life issues. There are plenty of pregnancy programs but there is nothing to impact the person – how do I manage the bills, etc. Pregnant teens are kids forced to be adults. They are not taught about health insurance. They may go on government benefits but don’t know how to use those channels. We work on true life skills and problem solving to support them.
Lisa: Of what are you most proud?
Rosemary: Definitely my legacy. My nieces, nephews, and my daughter have overcome more than our family has seen. They have broken generational curses. They have gone to college. I see them go out and see the world and be better people, financially and emotionally, and all give back – and I know I helped to do that. I helped to change what my family structure looks like. My son goes to school inside Aiken.
As a mother working two jobs, when my son struggled in school and his education was still a huge priority for me. He needed a different way of learning, so I homeschooled him from 7th to 9th grade. Sometimes you need to step out of the box to make sure your child gets what he needs. After homeschooling him, followed by an alternative education program, he is now doing well in school.
Lisa: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Rosemary: My teacher Gloria Harper at Withrow once taught me that sometimes you have to walk around the wall rather than through it. You have to think first before you act. I live by that.
I don’t know who gets more out of my visits to the Kennedy Heights Montessori Center, me or the kids. Usually I read to the 3 to 6 year olds, but last week we did something different. They each made a personal, hand made Valentine’s Day car that I brought to residents of a local nursing home. The children had so much fun making their gifts and how special those gifts were to the older adults who received them.
My intern, Isabella Noe, a senior at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati is a very special person. It gives her such satisfaction to reach out and help others. Below is her story, in her own words, of how a simple acts of kindness touched her; and how she thinks about that impact.
At my job at the Fresh Healthy Café in the Kenwood Towne Centre, in lieu of a tip jar, we have a jar for the homeless. Most people drop in their change, while others dig into their wallets for a few extra dollars. This may not seem like much, but during the holiday season, the mall is bustling with excitement. When each person donates a spare quarter or two on average, it adds up. A few weeks ago our donation jar topped $100. Each day we collect change so the Fresh family can donate a large sum of money at once, rather than multiple small donations. While it is certainly not enough to make a huge impact, it feels good to be doing something to help.
Especially around the holidays, I was extremely concerned for the homeless. As temperatures drop, I think of all the people who do not have a warm meal or place to stay the night, or even a family to celebrate with. I feel incredibly grateful for how privileged I am, but often find myself wishing I could do more for those who are not as lucky. I hope someday I can make more of an impact because it is sometimes difficult as a teenager to bring about huge change. However, I have come to realize that change doesn’t need to be earth shattering- one can make a big difference in small ways, such as delivering for the St. Vincent de Paul food pantries. My grandfather and I spent a lot of time working together at his local pantry, which I enjoyed very much because it taught me about kindness. The pantry was often at capacity due to a huge influx of donations, which warmed my heart. It was an incredibly humbling experience.
I often think of the food pantry or other similar organizations when I see people drop their change into the small jar at work. I remember the ease of picking up and delivering food, and how something so simple for me could make such a huge impact. Kindness works in many ways, and doesn’t have to be big. Small acts of kindness can make a huge difference, just as spare change can add up to a warm bed and a hot meal for someone in need.