How Did These Students Excel? Answer: With Their Parents’ Support

By The Understood Team on Mar 13, 2015

Are there common lessons we can draw from the stories of students who have succeeded?

Harvard professor Thomas Hehir and his colleague Laura Schifter think so. They interviewed 16 current and former Harvard students with all sorts of disabilities, including learning and thinking differences. Several have .

They wanted to know how these students found personal and academic success. The stories are now part of a new book called How Did You Get Here? Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard.

What did Hehir and Schifter learn from the students? First of all, active parenting matters. Nearly all the students had parents who advocated for and supported them. One of the students, Justin, who struggled with reading, shared a typical experience:

“My parents were actively involved with my education. They always made sure I was in a situation where people appreciated both my strengths and weaknesses, and where I was never made to feel stupid.”

In fact, four of the students said their parents went beyond advocacy. They actually took jobs in the students’ schools to be able to offer the best support possible.

Case in point is Eric, who has dyslexia—and both a master’s and doctorate from Harvard. When he was in third grade his mother took a job in his elementary school as an assistant teacher in another classroom:

“I think it was to keep an eye on me. Not just keep an eye on me because I am going to get in trouble, but to be able to better inform the way she could help me. I think my mom got it … I think she saw it firsthand. She actually found ways to help.”

But the lessons that Hehir and Schifter draw from these students aren’t just about parents. They also discuss the tremendous effect of teachers who believe in kids with learning and thinking differences. And they devote several chapters to how these students gained confidence and learned how to believe in themselves.

How Did You Get Here? Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard was released by Harvard Education Press on March 10, 2015.

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    About the author

    The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.