Up to six years ago, I knew little or nothing about children with learning differences. I didn’t understand their travails at public schools. These young people were distraught. So were their parents.
Previous school experiences were sadly unsuccessful.
Saddled with dyslexia—a learning disorder that causes people to find use of letters and words difficult, though their intelligence level is as high as others—and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), commonly linked with inability to concentrate or impulsive behavior—young folks and their parents often face academic and social despair. Some young people might be on the autism spectrum.
Chrissy Aull, founding head of Wye River Upper School (WRUS), now located in the wonderfully renovated Maryland National Guard Armory in Centreville, joined with her friend, Patricia McGlennan, to establish a special place for high school students with few good choices, to use their good brains and learning differences to succeed and move on to college.
WRUS is more than a school. It provides a safe, welcoming environment where students unaccustomed to feeling good about themselves, find that others share their academic challenges.
Chrissy Aull is retiring in June, 2020. In a letter sent last week to the WRUS community of alumni, parents, faculty, donors and friends, Alexa Seip, board chair, wrote: “Timing is everything. Wye River Upper School is in a position of strength. Enrollment has increased. Budgets have been balanced. A faculty team is delivering transformative education.
“Chrissy Aull, founding Head of School, has announced her retirement will take place in June, 2020…thank you, Chrissy, for giving us this school that has given so much to many.”
My first meeting with Aull left a lasting impression. She was enthusiastic, dedicated and dogged about a school that changed the lives of hundreds and hundreds of young people and parents justifiably discouraged about the education and treatment they were receiving in public schools hampered by lack of qualified, though well-meaning teachers and administrators.
Chrissy cared, deeply. She and Patricia McGlennan had sons who needed a curriculum geared to their learning differences. It was their mutual concern about their children that motivated them to found a school originally situated in a classroom at Chesapeake College.
Aull wrote in her letter explaining her retirement: “Few people are blessed as I am to wrap up a lifetime of professional experiences with the knowledge that persistence and passion can result in a legacy such as this one. That is a gift with no equal as I hand over the key to the front door(s).”
Through Tom Seip, who co-chaired the capital campaign for the renovation of the old Guard armory, I learned about the struggles experienced by parents trying mightily to divine a way for their children to succeed and achieve a level of self-esteem that might have seemed unachievable at some point.
I met some of the WRUS students; I was impressed by their abilities to navigate their learning differences and contribute to a safe, comfortable environment.
It’s not easy for a founder of any organization, private, public or academic, to step away from something to which he/she gave birth and nurture. I suspect that in Chrissy Aull’s case, her service as school Head was more a calling than a job. The school she co-founded has provided hope to so many.
Godspeed, Chrissy Aull, on your retirement journey. As you said, you leave an invaluable legacy, one that has enhanced the lives of so many students and parents.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.
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