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Chapman overcomes learning disability, wins scholarship

Actress Sigourney Weaver looks on as OHS senior Ross Chapman gives a speech after recieving a $10,000 scholarship. (click for larger version)
May 15, 2013 - "Never give up, never, never, never give up" was the famous quote by British Prime Minster Winston Churchill that helped give determination to Oxford High School Senior Ross Chapman to overcome his learning disability (LD).

After being held back in kindergarten a second time, teachers couldn't understand why Chapman wasn't reading very well and he couldn't understand how his peers could read sentences with what he called "dancing letters." The answer came in third grade when he found out he had a learning disability called "dyslexia."

"I cried my eyes out when he was diagnosed thinking what was going to happen," said his mother Nancy.

"From the moment I was diagnosed with my disability my mom told me that my brain works differently and I just need to find a way to figure out how my brain works differently," Ross said.

While he tried to figure out how his brain "worked differently," for reading he also found out he had two other LD's working against him, "dyscalculia," which hinders the ability to do math and "dysgraphia," whichhinders handwriting ability. In grade school Ross said his reading and mathematical skills were below grade level and despite his hard effort to read, there was very little progress.

Ross's "blessing in disguise" came the summer between fifth and sixth grade, when he started running with the high school cross country team and was misdiagnosed with a heart murmur at a physical. Due to the misdiagnosis the doctor told Ross he wasn't allowed to do any physical activity, so after getting bored watching television all day, he took his mom's advice. He went to the library and started getting books from the children's section.

"I went from Dr. Seuss books all the way to Tom Clancy books in one summer," he said. "I just pushed through. I can't really explain exactly what happened. I wanted to show the world I can do everything that everyone else can."

Even though he had become "friendlier" with his dyslexia and was learning how to continue making progress in his reading. Ross said the challenges of math followed him through his middle school years, where he was only working at a fourth grade level and tested at a third grade level in eighth grade. Nancy wondered if her son would ever be able to even work at McDonald's due to such a low math level. But just like his inability to read, Ross found motivation to push him to be able to do math.

The push came in the "No Child Left Behind Act," which was signed in 2001 by President George W. Bush. Because Ross was still in special education math he was given the choice of getting a high school completion certificate or a high school diploma.

"In order to get a diploma you can't be in a special ed class, that's part of 'No Child Left Behind,'" Nancy said. "I was OK with him getting a certificate and then going to Oakland Community College and I didn't even know that was going to happen with (a) third grade math (level.)"

However, a certificate wasn't good enough for Ross, he wanted to earn his diploma. His eighth grade teacher decided to do an experiment with him. She found out by giving Ross a calculator that he indeed could do math at an eighth grade level, which moved him up to algebra.

"I thought 'No Child Left Behind' was the devil when they were first making him go into the eighth grade math," Nancy said." I thought 'he is in third grade math, how do you push him like that?'"

"If it wasn't for that (No Child Left Behind)," Ross added. "I wouldn't have been in normal math and in pre-calculus right now."

When he entered high school, Ross said he also pushed to be in Advanced Placement (AP) classes because they didn't allow dyslexic or any kids with learning disabilities to take them because they thought they couldn't do it.

"My biology teacher, human anatomy teacher and (former) cross country coach Mr. (Ray) Sutherland was the only teacher at first who believed I could go into honors and AP courses," Ross said. In fact he was the one who placed me in the honors course without talking to the counselors."

Ross said his first honors course was honors chemistry, where he earned a B + and since has taken three AP courses and been successful.

Ross's determination not only helped him conquer his LD, but also landed him a $10,000 scholarship from Anne Ford and the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

"I felt amazed (that I won,) he said. "I couldn't believe it at first."

Ross was only one of two to receive the $10,000 scholarship and his winning 500 word essay was selected out of 400 other applicants.

As a winner of the scholarship he was flown to New York City for the NCLD's 36th Annual Benefit Dinner held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel where he received his scholarship from award-winning actress Sigourney Weaver and gave a memorized speech in front of 400 people, including Barbara Walters.

"It was probably one of the most nerve- racking things I've done," Ross added.

He also got to try his first caviar

"It was wrapped around the salmon so I couldn't really taste it," he said.

The trip he said was "unreal."

"It made me want to live in New York, it's an amazing city. I love New York," he said. "It's almost like you're in Disney World when you're in Time Square, it was amazing."

"One thing that was a surprise being in New York is they have this persona of being such tough, snotty people, but they're really nice," added Ross. "Everyone comes up to you and asks if you need directions or where you want to go and they're just everyday people."

While one opportunity leads to another, upon returning home from New York, Nancy said she received an e-mail asking for Ross to speak at Capital Hill in Washington DC where he will be part of an educational panel.

"It's exciting and nerve-racking," he said. "It's almost the same mixed feelings about graduation."

Outside of the classroom, Ross has also found success running cross country and playing his first year of varsity lacrosse. He is a member of the National Honors Society and does a lot of community service, including volunteering as a reading tutor for a fourth grade boy, who is also believed to have dyslexia.

Looking at all of his accomplishments so far and that Ross will be graduating with a high school diploma, Nancy said she couldn't be more proud of her son.

"Never put constraints and box a kid in because you never know what is going open their mind to enable them to do things (they never thought was possible). If you get a bad grade, it's not the end of the story; it's what you come out with," she said. "He's coming out with a 3.7 grade point average in honors and AP classes and he did it with hard work."

As for the future, Ross plans to attend Michigan State University with a major in International Relations, where he hopes to get a job working for the government.

"Whether that is Secretary of State, FBI or something like that, I've always had an interest in history," he said. "I just want to be a part of history and do something that's remembered."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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