My Name is Tyler George Cunningham, and I am extremely fortunate to be a graduate of Trillium Demonstration School.
It not only changed my life, it likely saved my life.
Before going further, I would like to introduce myself a bit more. I am a 24 year old student, volunteer, tour guide, student government participant, advocate, coach and mentor. I am graduating from Lakehead University's Outdoor Recreation degree program, and just entering a Master’s program in Sociology.
I dedicate a very large amount of time in a variety of sectors, by running, being part of, and participating in a wide variety of topics and charities. I founded and set up a volunteer center at Lakehead, and have organized and ran the new student orientation week for the last 3 years. I have been very active in gender issues, LGBTIA rights, assisting new students, particularly foreign students, affirming and establishing education rights, tour guiding, mentoring, tutoring and many other activities. I will do anything and everything I can to help out, wherever and whenever someone needs me. All of these activities have taken place on a wide variety of scales from individual assistance, to local assistance, to national assistance, and even international assistance. I am in the process of writing a book. I mentor privately a multitude of various students both within Lakehead University and outside, and have been consulted by teachers, professors, local business, school boards, and a wide variety of others. One of my most sought after areas of expertise concerns people with Learning Disabilities, as I have a great deal of experience in this area.
I am Severely Learning Disabled.
Without employing the education and techniques I learned at Trillium, I read and write at a grade 3 level. Without the Trillium demonstration school, I could not, and would not have written this letter. I most definitely would not have finished high school. I most likely, would not be here at all.
Instead, I am one of the many, many success stories of an education system that has made it possible for Learning Disabled kids to not get passed by. An education system that appears to unfortunately be on the chopping block.
Demonstration schools offer education on great many levels. My Trillium schooling saved me socially, in addition too academically. Everyone has their difficulties. It is human nature to have some sort of fault. Yet, one of the most difficult things in existence is too feel isolated, and that’s what my learning disability made me feel on a daily basis. I am one of four. One older sister, two younger brothers. Three of the most well-educated and smartest people I know. To struggle reading a book or learn a concept in math, in front of them, was truly humiliating. To struggle reading a book or learn a concept in math, in front of my classmates and teachers was also humiliating. Teachers ran the game from making fun of me, to pushing me into special needs classes because it would “be easier on him.” They talked slower to me because I was the 'special person', somehow less. Few realized I was as intelligent as anyone, I just couldn't get it out. It hurt! I felt I never truly belonged anywhere. People began to seem too daunting and quite often I hid behind my parents to make it from person to person and event to event. I locked myself away from the world, because the only one who got me was me. I often had extremely dark thoughts, that quite frankly now looking back are appalling for any young person to ever consider. Trillium and its holistic approach to education was a literal lifesaver. It turned my life around 180 degrees socially. My parents and those few teachers I hold truly close to my heart, saved my life and set me down on the right path. Because of this school I learned that I was not the only one going through these struggles. There suddenly within this school was a community that understood me. One that I felt I finally had no barriers with. One that I could start to grow into someone greater than the locked away potential that seemed so very daunting and over encumbering that was previously set up for me. One where I finally understood how to interact with people. Where those students and faculty, helped become another family that truly helped to show me that my potential was not limited but limitless. I learned how to make friends. Advocate for myself. Become a talker who instead of cowering in the back behind his parents is now leading the charge. Wanting to create a better world for the future for everyone. This school helped to stand me on my feet and taught me how to walk. With this school I became an advocate for not just myself but for everyone around me, especially those with disabilities. I try daily to show them that you’re the hero in your own journey and no one can tell you otherwise. That friends, family, teachers, anyone else, even if they attempt to belittle you or keep you in a corner can be risen against, as long as you have the right skills and mind set. In no way would I be happy without the opportunities that were instilled in me from this school. This family that I gained and the skills that I acquired would be here at a moment’s notice whenever I need them. This includes those I finally found after, in my high school, and elsewhere, because of what I learned at Trillium.
A second major education that I was blessed with at Trillium, was being taught the importance of the responsibility for one’s own education. I had literally stopped caring, by grade 9. It had become painful learning for a long time. I know both my parents would attest to how hard it was for me to just sit down for even five minutes of homework. Learning was pointless for me. I thought I did not need it one bit. My family would keep telling the teachers I was smarter than the meaningless tasks they gave me. However, the same issues would repeat. I would have an inescapable eagerness to just get it all away from me. It was never for me. I could not do anything about learning anything. I saw my friends and brother and sister surpass me at every step. I was always in awe of what they were learning. How quickly they could all pick it up. While I on the other hand only ever could dream of not landing in some dead end job that would make me feel locked away even more. They could be these self-sufficient learners with the world at their fingertips. The only way I truly felt I could learn something new was through secondary means of help from my patient family. They would say something along the lines of “oh that’s neat,” and I would then finally be granted into the world I wanted. Into the world of exploring through learning. Trillium changed that completely. This school literally gave me the skill and that opportunity. It gave me the chance to love learning. To actually feel I could compete with the other students, and my family. It gave me the same chance of falling in love with what the amazing teachers could teach me. I owe some of them my life and my happiness and I will never be able to repay them. I was able to grow close to the teachers and not fear them. I was able to leave high school with an extremely high average. Because of these skills I learned, I had and have free time to participate in other school activities and grow myself as a person, to grow my mind, and to help others. People began coming to me for discussion about topics. Joining a debate team that was considered highly academic, do charity events on massive scales, learn about gardening. Literally stay relevant and knowledgeable in areas. This school gave me the opportunity to not feel like school was irrelevant and just something you have to do. It has allowed me to go far beyond what many people thought I could never do. What I knew deep down I always realized I wanted to do. I am a student for life. I fight my way through to the top of the game. If you had told my parents before Trillium that I was giddy about going into a Master’s program they would have called you mad. They would have been right.
These demonstration schools help people grow their own potential. They enable Learning Disabled and otherwise challenged children to NOT get swept under the rug. Students attending demonstration schools finally have a fighting chance to be what they can, rather become what people think they are. They are given the tools to not be a burden on society for their whole lives.
This school has allowed me my freedom and my life.
I would not be half the person I am today without my single year at Trillium. I would likely not 'be' at all. Trillium was that important to me, and it is that important for every student who attends.
Please do not close these vital links in our education system.
Please allow all kids a chance.