Kudos for Cush

22 Jun

Mary Lee Cushman’s mother threw away her report cards because she thought her daughter wasn’t trying. Unhappy and feeling inadequate, Cush remembers skipping school a lot. Because of her school test scores, colleges wouldn’t accept her. Attending a remedial program for adults at the University of Minnesota, she recalled taking a bus to the University. She then walked to catch another bus, so her colleagues wouldn’t know she was attending the “dumb, dumb, school.” There she learned to read, including speed-reading, and how to study. A Master’s Degree in Education Administration is a direct result of those efforts.
When asked who influenced her to try college, she replied, “No one, it was shear fear. Fear of what would happen to me if I didn’t get some help.”
Being learning disabled herself, she has a special ability to relate to others with the same problems. I observed her learning disabilities classroom at Renner Elementary, Parkville School District, Kansas City (North), Missouri. Cush had twenty students throughout the day—nineteen boys and one girl. Several students read animal reports aloud. They not only read them, they made eye contact. These same children went to younger classrooms and give these reports—what a boost to the self-esteem of gifted children with learning disabilities!
My reaction to the class was, “Future speakers of America…”
What a boost it would be for any child’s self-esteem to be able to give a report like that in front of a classroom. Most adults’ biggest fear is to speak in front of a group of people. Schools should consider giving all students a head start with this type of program. (For instance, second graders reading to first graders, etc.) As it is now, only the most self-confident high school students take debate.
Students start in her class barely able to read. By the time they finish the school year, they can read at their grade level. To begin to learn to read smoothly, the children pat their hands three times whenever they see a comma or a period.
Cush has a special rapport with her students. For example the children learn to spell the words could, should and would, by making the starting sound and adding, “Oh, yoU LD kid.”
Even while student teaching, she zeroed in on helping those children who were having trouble. She knew what it was like to struggle. Recalling her first three years of teaching, she now feels sorry for those children. “They were my guinea pigs.” She began using parents and grandparents as helpers and continues to do so. Together they discovered what worked for students.
A student’s mother, Roxie Homuth, remarked, “The students at Renner all consider the kids in Cush’s class lucky. The atmosphere at that school is different. Of course, it helps that Cush gives her students candy. But whatever it takes, it works.”
Remember, these children had few, if any, rewards in the regular classroom setting. Cush believes they need the instant gratification of popcorn or candy.
When Cush tutored my grandson, who wasn’t a big candy lover, he took great pride in sharing his goodies from the tutoring sessions with siblings, parents and grandparents.
Renner’s principal, George Curry, recalled his first impression of her, “Odd, unorthodox, a little out of the ordinary as an education.” He views her as uniquely different from other learning disability teachers he has observed. He sees children in her class participating eagerly—wanting to learn. “Sometimes parents feel that Cush is being too hard on their child. It’s also apparent that the children love her and most importantly, are learning. Cush asks a lot of her students and they respond positively.”
Cush, an outstanding educator, recalled helping a prior student with posters for his campaign for student council president. The student won. After his acceptance speech, the student body gave him a standing ovation. She relayed this information in a burst of pride. “The rest of my life may be a mess,” Cush, who has never married, said, “but I am good at teaching.”
She, now retired, tutors children from her home. Mary Lee Cushman has made and continues to make a dramatic and influential difference in the lives of all the children she reaches.
This article appeared in a small local paper in our area.


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