Fisher returns to BA to bring hope for struggling students

By CATHRYN CARTWRIGHT,

Retirement is often a time where many people like to relax and enjoy themselves after decades of hard work and building a successful career.  Some people use this time to do the things they love, which can range from traveling to hobbies, or just spending time with family.

For Becky Fisher, retirement would include these things, but she soon realized that after 40 years the calling to teach was still on her heart. 

Fisher retired from the Yazoo County School District as their superintendent on June 30, 2018.  While she enjoyed the much-needed rest over the summer months, Fisher realized that something was missing in her life. She missed doing what she loved, which was teaching, and so she returned to the school where her career in education first began four decades ago.

After much consideration and discussion with Mr. Steve Flemming, headmaster for Benton Academy, Fisher began her new calling as a resource teacher for all students at the school who struggle with learning disabilities.

"I just had this desire to go back," she said. "I approached Mr. Flemming and told him that I had something to offer Benton Academy."

Once all the details were ironed out and room was made for the new resource program in the school budget, Fisher went to work organizing her resource classroom and gathering the materials she needed.

Mrs. Fisher's Resource Room is located inside of a small space in the elementary building at Benton Academy.  The small cozy space is warm and inviting to students, and while there are no windows to distract young learners, there are plenty of useful tools and colorful objects to help stimulate learning for the children.

"When the kids come in here, my job is to show them how they learn using their strengths," Fisher said. "I am working with kids from kindergarten to the tenth grade.  I guess my mission for being here is to make sure that these kids soar."

Fisher said that at the beginning of the year she was given a list of potential students for her classroom.

"That very first day I looked at the list of names given to me by parents and teachers," she said. "I looked at the folders of each student to assess where I could help their weaknesses and their strengths.  I build on their strengths in order to address their weaknesses."

Fisher said she spent the first two weeks of the school year looking over her list of potential students, which numbered 19 in all.  After that she formulated a schedule that would work for each of her students at every grade level.

"I am only here part time, but I work all day long on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays," she said. "And I normally spend 30 to 45 minutes a day with a student or a small group every day."

Fisher added that most of her students with disabilities on the elementary level look forward to coming to her class throughout the day, some visiting twice a day to help supplement their English and math lessons.

"Sometimes these students get lost in the weeds," she said. "They come to me, sometimes twice a day if they need it, just to get them to understand what the teacher is saying. Most of these kids learn by touching and by sight, and not by hearing."

Fisher said that some of her teaching methods for the elementary students include phonics lessons with drawings, touching and arranging felt letters, building words with colorful blocks and magnets, and using dry-erase boards and colored paper to practice writing.  Fisher also uses small groups to play phonics and spelling games, as well as other types of board games and learning exercises for students who may not understand or are falling behind.  For some middle school students, she helps them use memory icons in class as reminders to help them keep up with the teacher's instructions. 

"I have several in kindergarten that have difficulty with spelling," she said. "They cannot figure out the sounds that certain letters make, so we go through little rhymes like ‘Fancy Feet,’ and we draw fancy feet so they can learn that ‘F’ sound."

Fisher added that for high school and middle school students who may struggle with dyslexia, one resource technique she uses during test time is to read the test out loud while giving them time to think about the answer.

"The kids come to me and I read the test, but I do not give them the answers," she said. "I read the test to them and then they fill in the blank or fill in the bubble on the test, whichever applies."

So far, Fisher said that students who visit her resource room have made a great deal of progress this year at Benton Academy.

"I have some students in middle school that were just last year wondering what they were going to do, and their parents were afraid they were going to fail," she said. "This year, two of those students are on the A and B honor roll and are showing significant improvement."

Fisher added that most of the parents are relieved to have the new resource program, because not only is it included in their tuition every month, it also takes some of the stress off of the parents during homework time at night.

"Sometimes Mama doesn't get home from work until 6 o'clock at night, and she is too tired to help with homework," Fisher said. "They ask me how can they help their child; well that is what I am doing at the school. I don't want Mama stressed out."

Fisher said that most of the children who start out in her resource program will eventually graduate out and be able to continue with their education because they will be equipped with their own new ability to learn in a different way.  She said however that children with Dyslexia will need continued support in school.

"Children with Dyslexia will have to have help for the rest of their life, but there are programs in college to support them," Fisher said. "Most if not all colleges have a helper that is assigned to them who will help them with reading or whatever else is needed. That is a law."

Fisher added that Dyslexia should be seen as a gift rather than a disability, because children with dyslexic brains are highly intelligent and brilliant in their own way.

"They are brilliant people, and their brain is just a little bit different," she said. "That is how God made us. He made us all different so that we have to work together.  If we were all the same it would be a boring world."

Fisher said that adding this new resource class to Benton Academy's educational programs has been a positive thing for the school, and will aid in its growth.

"I think it's a positive thing for Benton when children that were not doing well started coming in here and they start learning the way that they learn and they become Honor Roll students," she said. "I think everyone is very excited about the possibility of more people and more growth. It’s kind of like that old saying 'If you build it they will come', well if you provide it they will come."

Looking back on the last few months in her new calling at Benton Academy, Fisher said that the transition has been positive and she has been very happy with the result. She also encourages other retired teachers to go back and volunteer if they still feel the calling on their life.

"I am excited that I got the opportunity to do this," she said. "Even though I retired from the county I was not done.  I still have love, I still have ability.  I want to do something with my life that is meaningful and will help someone."