Stu­dent over­comes brain in­jury

The Covington News - - LOCAL - KAYLA ROBINS krobins@cov­

When CJ Heard sus­tained a trau­matic brain in­jury (TBI) in ninth grade, many may have thought it would be easy to throw in the towel and give up on school, ath­let­ics and any hopes of col­lege. But that’s not what he did. CJ Heard, a re­cent grad­u­ate of Woodlee’s Chris­tian Academy, hit his head dur­ing a fall at school in 2009, but he went home with noth­ing more than a bad headache. The next day, he was at home when he ac­ci­den­tally hit his head on an end ta­ble, blacked out and went to the hospi­tal with a con­cus­sion. A blood ves­sel had burst in CJ Heard’s head. He spent 18 months on home bound to be­gin his re­cov­ery be­fore re­turn­ing to Woodlee’s. Back at school, CJ Heard be­gan hav­ing trou­ble with home­work and tests.

“If I had tests given orally, I think I would do bet­ter,” CJ Heard said. “When it’s on paper I get ner­vous.”

CJ Heard has a tu­tor help him with home­work and study­ing be­cause he has a low re­ten­tion for short-term mem­ory, his mother, Greta Heard, said. Some­times they would be up un­til 2 a.m. work­ing on math prob­lems other stu­dents fin­ished eas­ily.

CJ Heard has a 504 plan that al­lows his state-ap­proved ac­com­mo­da­tions, such as op­ti­mal times for test tak­ing, shorter as­sign­ments and tak­ing tests orally in­stead of read­ing and writ­ing an­swers on paper.

Tran­si­tion­ing to his 504 plan was not an easy task, both for CJ Heard and those in­volved in his school­ing.

Greta Heard said she felt the school did not fol­low her son’s ac­com­mo­da­tions. Some teach­ers did not give him shorter as­sign­ments or made him take tests on paper, just like the rest of the class. She said ten­sions and frus­tra­tions even got to the point where trans­fer­ring was an op­tion.

“One thing about our school and staff,” said

He wanted to just throw in the towel, and it’s frus­trat­ing. But on the same to­ken, he was de­ter­mined he wanted to do this, to main­tain his grades. He could have re­belled eas­ily. But he didn’t.

Woodlee’s di­rec­tor Terri Knight, “we don’t want to make ex­cuses for people. You can use things as a crutch. And while we were meet­ing (the 504 plan), I’m sure there’s prob­a­bly a time here and there some­thing was not met ex­actly. I don’t re­call. I can see where there could be a time or two where some­thing wasn’t fol­lowed to the Nth de­gree.

“Some­times, we just want to push the stu­dent. Some­times, we come across as not co­op­er­at­ing or be­ing too hard when all we’re do­ing was push­ing them out of their com­fort zone. It didn’t come across some­times prop­erly to the par­ents. It’s for their good. It’s prepa­ra­tion for their fu­ture and mov­ing to col­lege.”

Greta Heard kept her son at Woodlee’s be­cause his doc­tor ad­vised he should not change cur­ricu­lums due to his short-term mem­ory loss. That big of a change would set him back too far.

“Had I known that he could han­dle it, I think I would have pulled him out,” Greta Heard said. “He wanted to just throw in the towel, and it’s frus­trat­ing. But on the same to­ken, he was de­ter­mined he wanted to do this, to main­tain his grades. He could have re­belled eas­ily. But he didn’t.”

CJ Heard main­tained a 4.0 GPA be­fore his in­jury. He grad­u­ated with a 3.5, the sec­ond-high­est GPA of Woodlee’s five grad­u­at­ing se­niors.

But he did not re­ceive the honor of be­ing named salu­ta­to­rian.

“Even with all that, he still suc­ceeded,” CJ Heard’s mom said. “He was tak­ing the same tests across the board (as ev­ery­one else). He knew all the an­swers. He just can’t do it on paper.”

Greta Heard said she thought this omis­sion, among other ob­sta­cles to CJ Heard’s ed­u­ca­tion, were more sin­is­ter than a sim­ple ex­pla­na­tion.

Knight dis­agreed. She said Woodlee’s only awards the ti­tle of vale­dic­to­rian.

“It was a de­ci­sion made by the board of di­rec­tors,” Knight said. “The vale­dic­to­ri­ans, typ­i­cally, in big­ger schools are over 4.0, and salu­ta­to­ri­ans are just be­hind that. And there are ex­pec­ta­tions that go with those ti­tles.

“It’s noth­ing per­sonal against the stu­dents what­so­ever. It’s just we know what that ti­tle holds.”

CJ Heard will at­tend Ge­or­gia Perime­ter Col­lege in the fall to pur­sue a de­gree in film pro­duc­tion.

“There are so many kids who have dif­fer­ent chal­lenges and learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties,” Greta Heard said. “They can over­come it if they have the right people in place, their par­ents sup­port­ing them. Don’t give up on them. En­cour­age them. Stand by them. That’s what it’s go­ing to take to over­come any chal­lenge they’re go­ing to have in their life.

“As for the stu­dent, don’t give up. Keep press­ing. If you feel some­thing is wrong, speak up. Don’t set­tle for any­thing. You know your dreams. You know your hopes. That was his dream. To have vale­dic­to­rian or salu­ta­to­rian. And he earned that.”

CJ Heard

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