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Montgomery College Student Success Stories

Keeping the Order Living
Insights, Spring ’04

Dr. Linda HandyThe words dance across the glass doors of the display case in the school foyer—devoid, diffuse, desecrate, despot. Written out on stenciled hearts cut from varying shades of lavender construction paper, they are a reminder of what makes the Chelsea School unique. “A lot of times, kids with learning differences have a very strong, creative right brain approach to things,” explains Dr. Linda Handy, academic head of the Chelsea School, which educates students with language-based learning difficulties, or dyslexia. “Using a multisensory approach to learning is so effective. When we use different colored outliners and different colored folders for [student] organization, that speaks to the creative part of their brain.”

Dr. Handy, a Montgomery College graduate of 1973, is unique, as well. She claims to have made this discovery while at the College. “I can remember a teacher at Montgomery College, Vic Sussman, an English literature teacher. He said to me one day after class, ‘You know, you’re the brightest student I’ve had since I’ve been here.’ That was music to my ears, really, because nobody had ever said that before.” Why? Because Dr. Handy was dyslexic, yet the disorder had not been diagnosed during her youth and throughout much of her young adulthood. She had been far more accustomed to hearing that she was “smart, but lazy,” and therefore had never believed she was competent enough to attend college.
The discovery of her own dyslexia came from her careful observations of her young son, long before she even dreamed of where education would eventually carry her. “I discovered I was dyslexic because of my son, Donald. When he was about three years old I recognized that he had this wonderful vocabulary. He had very high verbal skills, but…he couldn’t memorize the alphabet without singing it. I started to recognize in him things that were my difficulties in school. He actually was diagnosed with a learning difference at age five, so for the two years preceding that, I was…doing my own self evaluation, as well as looking at him, and the way he was learning.”

This self discovery had occurred simultaneously with her enrollment at Montgomery College, where she was beginning to cope with her learning challenges. She found that “there was always somebody you could go to for assistance. Part of it, too, was the attention and the small classes and the access to everything. Even in those days…Montgomery College had everything you could possibly need to learn,” she explained.

Dr. Handy discovered that the way she learned best was auditorally. “So I started reading all of my notes into a tape recorder; and when I would play those notes back, repetitively, eventually I would have the information—so solidly—that it wouldn’t go away.”

Soon, dyslexia had been overcome and academics had been conquered. She continued her education, receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and her master’s and Ph.D. from Hood College and Greenwich University, respectively.
Today, Dr. Handy’s tack in running the day-to-day academic affairs for 100 students at the Silver Spring school is nothing, if not personal. With advanced degrees in psychology and counseling, Dr. Handy finds that combination to be “a great marriage for someone who works in a school for kids with learning disabilities. In traditional school environments, they’re often made to feel ‘less than’ everybody else. They might feel they’re not as bright as other students, and teachers may give messages that are not necessarily positive. So those kids will come to us with a bruised ego, that they haven’t had success at their life’s work. What’s a child’s life’s work but going to school and learning how to play with friends?”
Despite the distance traveled and the remarkable discoveries she has made along the way, Dr. Linda Handy remains true to Montgomery College in more ways than one. The College is one of the schools Dr. Handy routinely recommends for her graduating students. “I feel I can really speak to what the offerings are for kids who need a smaller class size, a more supportive academic environment, so that they can leap forward to the four-year college. I would like to see all of our students go to Montgomery College, or to a community college, because I think it’s important to [sustain] this kind of nurturing academic experience.”