If I Was Strong Enough...
Before Katrina, my brother-in-law was working in the cleaners and his boss asked him to go down to the steam room and a steam pipe burst...
He received third-degree burns from his neck down. And my sister became basically the sole provider for their family so she couldn’t afford to stay home to take care of him because she had to keep a roof over their head. The cleaners wouldn’t pay for his medical treatment and they couldn’t afford to pay for a home health nurse. So I began to go over there after researching things on the internet. I began to go over and clean his wounds, administer his medicine, and once the skin grafts began to take, I had to massage the skin to make sure that it was stretching properly to ensure the proper mobility.
So after the skin healed, he needed physical therapy and they still couldn’t afford to pay for that, so I researched and learned how to bend his legs to different degrees and angles to make sure that he would be able to walk and everything. And once he was able to get up and running, he just thanked me for everything I did, and that is why I wanted to become a physical therapist. It felt really good to help him and to know that I played a vital part in his healing.
It took about a year and a half. And I’m not going to lie - at first I was so nervous because I didn’t think I would be able help him, but he began to talk me through certain things that the doctor told him, as well as the research on the internet, like as far as cleaning the wounds and putting the new bandages, and there was a cream that he had to put on it to keep from getting an infection. And basically...I can’t even describe what it was like to do those things because at times it was like he wanted to give up and he would say that he couldn’t do it, so I had to try to keep him motivated, as well as motivate myself, letting myself know that I can do this, I can get him to where he needs to be. And if I was strong enough, it would give him the strength to do what he had to do in order to get better.
And does he know that you’re now in school and wanting to study physical therapy?
Yes, he does, and he’s very proud. He motivates me constantly and tells me that I can do anything that I want to do.
This is my daughter’s kindergarten graduation...
...and while most might say it’s not important, but to me [cut] that is one of her biggest accomplishments in life, and I definitely see myself in my cap and gown when I look at their cap and gown pictures, and I see myself putting my cap and gown picture up between theirs on the family wall.
I hold [my kids] to the same standards I hold myself to.
Even with my son having an autism spectrum, I still hold him to the same standards that I hold my daughter to. It’s a must that he do well in school. Over the summer, they have some learning activities on the computer - Lexia Core, myOn, there’s a few others. I make sure that they get at least two hours or three hours a day throughout the day of learning so that they don’t lose any information. It’s a true saying: If you don’t use it, you definitely do lose it. So I make sure that they stay current on their studies to make sure that they’re ahead of the game when school starts.
Like with my son: he has a big jump from 2nd to 3rd grade and he’s going to be working on multiplication tables, so we’ve already started working on that so that he can be ahead of the class, so that if once he gets to the 3’s and the 4’s it becomes complicated for him, it’ll allow him more time to study in those areas once he’s mastered the easy ones like say for instance the 1’s time tables, 2’s, 5’s, 10’s. If any of the others are a challenge, he’ll already have those down pat and he’ll be working on those.
Basically, at the end of every school year for my kids, I’ll ask - say for instance, my daughter is in the 1st grade, so I’ll ask [my daughter’s teacher] does she have a 2nd grade packet that my daughter can begin working on over the summer so that she’ll have a head start in her studies. Same thing for my son. By him being in second grade this year, I asked for a 3rd grade packet for him, and if they have any leftover books from what they studied in the previous grade that they’re in, I’ll ask their teachers for them so that they can reinforce what they learned throughout that school year, to make sure that they fully understood every area and every subject. Like for instance, my son, he’s in speech therapy so I know that he left off in his speech therapy with his communication skills, so I asked her for a packet for me to continue to work on his comprehension and everything where he struggles.
My kids are super independent, so they don’t want me to really give them any input on their homework unless it’s something that they truly don’t know. So while I have them sitting to the table studying and doing homework, I’m sitting to the table studying and doing homework as well. If I have to pause to assist them, I stop and assist them to make sure that they’re on the right path and then I go right back to mine.
When I’m studying for my Medical Terminology, I make it a fun game for them as well.
I’ll take maybe about ten terms and I’ll tell them what they all are and what they mean and I’ll hide the backs from them and ask them the word, and we do it like a point system, and whoever gets a certain amount right, they get a treat. Of course, I sneak and give the other one a treat behind their back because I can’t show favoritism, but...I think overall it’s something that will be great for them because the Latin and Greek words are word roots that’ll bring them to words that they need in school when they’re doing vocabulary, spelling, and having to define words. I think it will help them out as well.
Well, my kids - both kids are on the honor roll...
...And when they made the honor roll, I took them out to eat. By me ending the semester on a 4.0, I asked my son...“Well, I made the honor roll too. Can you take me out to eat?” He said, “You know I can’t do that. I’m just a kid.”
Did y’all celebrate anyway?
Yes, we did. Well, we didn’t do what I wanted to do because somehow my celebrations always turn into their celebrations, so instead of going out to a restaurant to eat, they wanted McDonalds and ice cream!
How was it?
It was awesome. As long as I get to celebrate with them, it’s all good.
Can you tell me what it was like to try to leave your house this morning?
Yes, I had to sneak out the door because my kids are so attached to me that they don’t like me leaving at all. It’s hard for me to leave them when I know it’s upsetting them, but I know that what I’m doing is good for my future as well as theirs, so I have to do what I have to do, and eventually they will become comfortable with it.
I was always a straight A student.
I had some behavior problems, but my grades were good. I went to the little performance that they had at the Lakefront Arena. I went every year [and] that’s what my teachers would say: “She’s an excellent student, as far as her academics is concerned, but she finish her work and then she wanna talk to everybody and stop them from completin’ their work.”
Just to be clear: this performance at the Lakefront Arena -- can you explain what that is?
It was “My Child is a Scholar.” It was basically for being on the honor roll. You would go every year and they’d give you a packet with a bumper sticker, and they would give you a pen and some awards to basically congratulate you on your academic excellence.
And those things that they said about you, was that like on a stage that they said that? Did they say that at that event, or was that something that they said somewhere else?
If you’re speaking on the fact that I get my work done and then wanna help others, no, they didn’t say it there! (Laughs) It would be when my mom came in to parent teacher conference and stuff. And it was to the point where if I didn’t interrupt others once I finished, they would reward me.
For the first time in my life, my mom has told me that she’s proud of me.
Oh my god. That just meant the world to me.
What was her attitude like toward school when you were in school before?
Well, her attitude -- she had a great attitude, but we had a situation in our family to where her husband became ill, and it’s nine of us, and I have four older and four younger. And, at the time, she was the only one providing and she had to buy uniforms for my four younger siblings, [and] they didn’t have any money for me to get my uniforms and everything, which is why I didn’t finish school.
But I think that the situation was totally beyond her control. I think that if she could have did it, she would have definitely provided it for me.
So just to be sure I’m understanding, why did you leave school?
I left school because I didn’t have the necessary materials in order to complete school. I didn’t have any uniforms and I couldn’t get my school supplies and everything.
Has anyone criticized your decision to come back to school, or criticized anything about your being back in school?
Basically my dad. I talked to him and I let him know I was back in school. I told him that I finished my first semester with a 4.0. He told me he seriously doubt it. And when I told him I had my transcripts to prove it, he told me that I hadn’t completed it yet so don’t count my eggs before they hatch.
Now, did that discourage me? No, because I know that that’s what it was all about. And my thing is, I have to prove to him, as well as myself, that I have the ability to be somebody in life.
What do you think was behind what he was saying?
I honestly don’t know why he said it. I would think that a parent would be more like a driving force, more of a motivation, but if I had to say, I would say it’s because I’m doin’ better than what he did in life. He did not finish school himself. And the fact that I had the courage to come back in order to complete and be successful and have my goals -- I think that that kinda bothers him.
Why it bothers him, I don’t know, because me personally, even if I was at a point where I was at a standstill, I still wanna see my kids do better than me.
Who is Dionne Hill?
If someone was to ask me, “Who is Dionne Hill?”...
...I would say that I am not without flaw but I am definitely not one who will give up so easily when it comes to things I want in life. I am now determined to motivate myself to do well in life, to be a...I don’t want to say hero but to be something that my kids can be proud of. When somebody asks them who’s their role model, I want them to look and say their mom is their role model. I don’t want them to look to rappers and stuff like that. Of course, if they want to say Barack Obama or Michelle, I’m good with that as well, just as long as it’s somebody that means something in the world, as long as it’s somebody that has a stamp that shows that they’ve done something to make a difference in the world.
I never thought that I would enjoy school as much as I do.
I never thought that it would be something that I look forward to on a daily basis. It’s amazing. It’s a wonderful feeling.
Everybody laughs at me and tells I’m such a nerd because I’m always here an hour or two hours ahead of time, but that’s alright because the early bird gets the worm.
This is my smile for coming to school.
I was so excited. This was like my first week, and, as you can see from the smile on my face, I was just overjoyed and so proud of myself for even making it to the campus. And, I don’t know, it’s just such a great experience. I think I’m enjoying school more this time than I did when I was a kid, because although I had straight A’s and stuff in school, I think this time the experience is a little bit better because I now have the knowledge of knowing what it means to get an education.
When I was younger, I thought it was all about academics and as long as I had good grades, then I was fine. But I now know that you have to be well-rounded. It’s not only academic. It’s the ability to communicate well with others. It’s the ability to use your critical thinking skills. It’s the ability to be able to assist someone that may not be on the level that you’re on. It’s the ability to be able to go and ask for help if you need help and not worry about whether or not your peers are going to think less of you for you asking for help. It’s all about doing everything you have to do in order to have a concrete future. You have to be willing to step outside of your boundaries and ask questions, no matter how silly you may think the question sounds. Once you ask the question, you may find that it’s something that other people wanted to find out and didn’t have the courage, so not only are you helping yourself, you’re helping them as well.
A few of my best moments?
In CCSS [College & Career Success Skills] class, I did not think that I was going to get an A, but after tweaking my study habits so many times, I was able to get my A, which was a big moment for me.
I know most people may think it’s silly, but I have to do well academically.
It’s not an option to fail or get a low grade. I definitely have to maintain -- for certain reasons, like if I maintain a high average, if I do get to a point in college where it becomes a challenge and I get a C, as long as I maintain high grades overall, I’ll still have an A average. It won’t bring my average down, and it won’t be hard for me to bring it back up.
Overall, I am happier, I have more confidence.
I just feel like I am a vital part of society, whereas before I started coming to class, I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer, but now I know that I am very precious, that I can definitely make a difference in this world as long as I motivate myself to do so.
I took my daughter to the doctor...
...and the doctor walked out and came back in with the diagnosis and said she had pharyngitis. Before taking Medical Terminology, I probably would’ve thought that she was dying and I probably would’ve hit the floor. But knowing that it only means that it’s a sore throat, I had to laugh because it sounds so severe. And my friend, when she heard the word, her facial expression was just priceless because I could tell that she thought the same thing that I would’ve been thinking. All I could do was laugh.
And how do you feel now when you go into those kind of medical situations?
I can definitely keep up with what they’re saying when they’re talking, and instead of looking from side to side trying to figure it out, I fully understand what they’re speaking on because I know how to break the medical terminology words down and I know what each word part means.
Coming back to school, would you say it’s been hard?
It hasn’t been 100% easy, but everything worth having comes with a bit of a challenge. So the challenge is actually good because it’s been bringing me out of my comfort zone. Like, say, for instance, having to deliver a 2-minute speech in [College & Career Readiness Skills class). Normally, back in the day, I would not have been able to stand up, not even in front of my peers, to deliver a speech, and now she has me to a point where I’m sitting in front of panels and speaking with them so...that was a great experience and I’m continuing to do that so that I’ll continue to grow and I’ll become a better speaker.
My CCSS [College & Career Success Skills] teacher, Ms. Nia Davis, spoke with me about an up and coming conference with the...I don’t know if they’re the founders but I would definitely say that they fund part of the [ACE] program. And we’re going to do a conference with 700 people, to where they’re going to ask questions and I get to answer, and I think it’s going to be a great experience. They’re also going to give us a stipend to pay for our books, so that’s a plus. I’m honored that they thought enough of me to bring me in on this, but not only that, it’s like Ms. Nia always said: come well prepared. So for every situation that she’s asked me to come in on, whether it was a conference or a seminar, I’ve always came dressed, and it looks like it paid off, because when we went to the job fair, she received an email stating how nice we looked and everything, so...it never hurts to dress up because you never know who’s gonna see you.
On a daily basis, anyone who knows me knows I love a good jean and tennis shoes, but whenever I’m going on an interview, or even if it’s not an interview and they don’t tell me I have to dress up, if I know it’s someone of importance, then I’ll wear my dress slacks with a blazer or a skirt with a blazer - something that’s more dressy-casual to where if it turns into an interview, I’m already prepared.
Making It Work
If you knew somebody else who was considering going back to school, what would you say to them? What advice would you give to them? Would you tell them to do it or not do it?
I would tell them to do it because overall it’s very worth it. I would let them know that yes it is going to be a challenge, but you can definitely achieve it. They have too many resources on campus to aid in your success for you not to succeed. I feel like the only people that don’t succeed is the ones that are not hungry enough for it. They don’t really want it in life. I think they’re doing it just because somebody else told them that this is what they should be doing. But I think if you’re genuinely doing it because it’s somethin’ that you want, then you will find a way to do it by any means.
Some people make you think that the whole experience is something you should fear...
..and then you have some people that make you feel that it’s so easy that you’re gonna fly through it. But I think it should be told that, yes, it’s a challenge, but as long as you apply yourself, and you set small goals, and once you reach those goals, you continue to set small goals and break it up into parts, I believe all of it can be achieved.
I don’t think you should go into it like, “Okay, I’m not worried about my grades as long as I get a C - no. You should always strive to get that A. I don’t think you should treat it as something that’s nonchalant. You should treat it as if it’s your baby. Just like you would do anything to nurture and help your kid grow, you should do the same for your academics.
I have my aunts, my cousin, they all motivate me...
...because they’re all medical as well. I have a system to where if I’m not understanding something in Medical, I’ll send a text to them and I’ll see who responds back and see if we all have the same answer. If not, they’ll tell me what I need to do in order to get to it. [It’s] the same with adult ed: if I’m struggling with my math, if I screenshot - if I take a picture and send it to them, they’ll all work it out but they won’t show me the answer, and then they’ll tell me to work it out again, and if I still don’t get it, then they’ll work the whole problem out. And then what they’ll do is they’ll make a problem just like it and it they’ll keep on doing it until I’m able to get the steps.
That’s amazing. Whose idea was that?
Basically, I have to take the credit because if I can’t get to my teachers, I try to think of anyone possible that can help me so that I will be successful. So once I realized that my cousin was really good at math, I started taking pictures and sending her, and I’m like, “Can you help me with this problem?” And she’ll work it out and she’ll send it back to me, and I’ll try to figure out how she got the answer. But if I still can’t get it, I’ll be like, “Well, can you make up a problem for me to solve?”
And she tells me the same thing: “Repetition is key.” You can’t do one or two of those math problems and think you’re gonna remember the process. You have to keep working at it daily. Even if you don’t have class, you still have to stay at it.
In all honesty, I think it makes them feel good as well...
...that I feel that they’re very intelligent and that they’re good people for me to come to in order to assist me with my assignments and, if it wasn’t for my cousin - she’s the one that initially helped me with the process of signing up for the adult ed classes because I was still unsure of whether or not I could do it. And she dragged me in and made sure it was done, and once she brought me in, I knew I had to stay committed to make all of them proud, and not only them, but myself, because this is something that I’ve always wanted for myself.
Another survival tip:
As far as cooking is concerned, I would use pots to cook, but I would use paper plates which made clean-up time shorter, which allowed me more time to study. But of course, I wish they had paper pots as well. If there were paper pots, I think we all would have more time to do a lot of things, because all you have to do is once you finish feeding your kids, just take them and throw them away, then get everybody in a position to take their baths and get ready for bed. It would make life so much easier.
I will be in school until 2019, to begin with.
I am going to do an Associate’s. But after that, once I get into the work field, I would like to go back for my Bachelor’s. And I want to try to get into the [Physical Therapy Assistant] program by August of next year, so if I do 15 hours for two or three semesters, then I will be a shoe-in for the program. And in order to do that, I have to do my community hours in three different work settings. So I’m trying to get into the hospital and the private clinic in order to get those hours, and I’m not sure how it’ll work in terms of doing the home health physical therapy, but I have some pretty good plans set in place in order to keep me on the right path to getting into the physical therapy program.
What’s it going to look like when I’m a successful physical therapist?
I don’t know how to backflip, but I will learn. I plan on just basically providing this care to where people just never want to leave, even once they’re well. They’ll think that I’ve done such a wonderful job and have such a friendly and professional atmosphere that they’ll go injure themselves just to come back.
By me doing the speech and occupational therapy with my son, I kind of have an insight on what things are like.
By me doing the speech and occupational therapy with my son, I kind of have an insight on what things are like. And the work they do - it’s amazing. My son went from being three years old and not talking at all to three and half to me saying, “Boy, could you please stop talking.” They are miracle workers.
And you will be a miracle worker, too.
I look forward to doing that and being that to someone. It is going to give me so much joy. I literally cannot wait.
Making a Difference in the World
How do you picture yourself making a difference in the world, and where do you want to be in the future?
Where I want to be in the future is I want to be a successful physical therapist. But what I want to do as far as my community is concerned, being that I’m a single parent and I know that it’s a struggle and, if not for having my mom on certain days, then I would have to make a decision on whether or not I wanted to come to class and my kids stay at home by themselves, which is -- I believe that they’re too young to stay at home, which means that I wouldn’t be in class.
So I would like to make a recreation center where kids can go after school, where they can get a hot meal, where they can get assistance with homework, different arts and crafts and everything like that while their parents are at work, to provide their parents with a safe environment so that they can provide for their kids. I think it’s very important to do things like that to keep our youth off the street and to give them the means that they need in order to come up in life and be successful. And it would continue to trickle down to each youth group to where it would make a difference as far as poverty and everything is concerned.
I wanted to do the summer semester, but I don’t really have anyone to watch my kids. I was able to get my mom to agree to [watch the kids] two days a week, so I was able to continue my study for my HiSET, but it would be a wonderful thing if there was some type of childcare that people who have kids can still continue and go to school over the summer. I mean, I know they do have childcare, but the cost of it is extremely high. If I could, I would definitely provide something that is more affordable for them to pay so that [the parents] could continue school over the summer.