Move from mainland helps Gabe’s grades

Family amazed by N.L. school’s treatment of child with Asperger syndrome

Published on June 21, 2013
Gabe Kroll, 12, had a great year attending school for the first time in Newfoundland and Labrador. Pictured with the recent Beachy Cove Elementary graduate are his stepfather, Brian Neary, and mother, Tina Kroll. Tina says the school’s willingness to let her son complete tests in a quiet environment accounts for Gabe’s improved grades. — Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

When Tina Kroll’s son, Gabe, was attending school in Ontario, she could not convince administrators and teachers to provide the environment her son needed.

Gabe, 12, was diagnosed in Grade 2 with a central auditory processing delay and given an informal diagnosis last May that said he exhibited symptoms commonly associated with Asperger syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder). He can easily get distracted and needs time to transfer his thoughts from pencil to paper.

A doctor recommended Gabe take tests outside the classroom and receive extra time, if necessary, to complete them.

“Because of that processing, he needed that little bit of extra time to sort of read it, process it and understand how to answer it,” said Gabe’s mother, an instructor with Ryerson University’s child and youth care program in Toronto.

“I knew that he was a brilliant kid, and everybody else seemed to sense it, and the grades weren’t showing it,” she said.

Attending school in Ontario, Gabe could not find the learning environment recommended by his doctor. One teacher told Tina she needed to adjust her expectations and accept the fact her son was a C-average pupil.

Since moving her family to Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s last summer and enrolling Gabe in Grade 6 at Beachy Cove Elementary, Tina has learned that Gabe’s former teacher in Ontario was mistaken.

Now Gabe is getting As and Bs on his report cards, and Tina credits staff at the school for helping him realize his potential.

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At the beginning of the school year, Tina met with school administrators and guidance counsellors to discuss Gabe’s situation. There was a noticeable difference in the reception she received.

“They were right prepared for him to come into the school in September,” she said. “Three days later, he comes home overwhelmed by the fact that with 15 minutes of extra help in a quiet room, he scored perfect on a test.”

Gabe came home in tears the day he received his math test with an A+ marked in red on it. His teacher provided a note to give to Gabe’s parents that said she allowed him to do the test in his office and take an extra 15 minutes to finish it, offering no other assistance.

“It doesn’t take much to make a change,” said Tina. “It takes just one person.”

At the end of the school year, Beachy Cove Elementary recognized Gabe’s efforts to learn by giving him the Matthew Churchill Award. The award recognizes hard work, determination and overcoming obstacles while maintaining a positive attitude.

“It was quite emotional for me,” said Tina.

When he would come home from school in Grade 5, Gabe would say little about how he felt, she said, but now he anxiously awaits the opportunity to get on the school bus. He left for school one day wearing slippers and forgetting to put on his coat, according to his mom.

Tina credits Gabe’s teacher, Paulette Spencer, for going the extra mile to help him succeed and gain confidence.

“Instead of him talking about being no good and being dumb …now, he doesn’t just want to be a pilot, now he’s going to own his own airline.”

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Gabe, too, credits his teacher for his newfound success at school.

“Ms. Spencer talks me through (it). She talks to the whole class, and then I ask a question and she says, ‘OK, I’ll get to you.’”

He said prior to Grade 6, he had trouble completing homework assigned by his teacher, but that has not been the case this school year.

Caring school

Aubrey Dawe, Beachy Cove Elementary’s principal, said the school was prepared to meet the needs of Gabe in the same way it would any other student at the K-6 school.

“We pride ourselves on our ability to adjust and adapt to the needs that our learners bring to the situation,” he said. “We have to meet our learners where they are and we’ve become very good at that.”

Dawe considers Beachy Cove Elementary to be a very caring school that is aided by a staff willing to put in extra effort to support learning. He also speaks kindly of the young Kroll boy.

“Gabe is a joy and a delight to have in our school. He has the uncanny ability to make you smile.”

This fall, Gabe will attend Leary's Brook Junior High in St. John’s, and Tina is optimistic about how he will adjust to the new school setting. Tina and Gabe’s stepfather, Brian Neary, met two weeks ago with the vice-principal and guidance counsellors at the school, and Tina said Spencer has also been in touch with the school.

“The reception that we received from Leary’s Brook was exactly the same as what I received from Beachy Cove,” said Tina. “They were full of questions. ‘What can we do?’ ‘What would be helpful?’ … I told them the reality is he did so well this year. We don’t want to lose that.”

“I hope they give me some help like they did this year,” added Gabe.

Twitter: @TeleAndrew