Secrets of My Success:
The Playground Effect


By Jonathon Hatch
MN H&V Speaker and Volunteer    

Today, teenagers can seem unaware and unappreciative of the many things parents and school staff do to help keep them on track with their education. Growing up hard-of-hearing and mainstreamed at my local school district, I was no different; I had to learn a lot of life lessons and experiences. The hearing world had many difficulties that I had to learn to adjust and adapt in order to become a contributing member of society, while achieving great successes in life. The Rocky Mountains, also called Colorado’s Playground, was where I learned much about myself - just like any playground, where a kid can have fun while finding out about who they are. Can learning how to climb monkey bars motivate one to climb up the career ladder? Or can swinging up till you reach the top teach us to never give up till we are satisfied?

Born and raised in Edina, Minnesota and a 2004 Edina High School graduate, I was educated under an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) from kindergarten through 12th grade. My support team, which consisted of my family, teachers, and school counselors, would meet quarterly to evaluate my process. In order for me to be able to graduate with my class, I had to do more than the average student in high school. Back then, I was a stubborn person who valued my independence and hated being told what to do. My parents always reminded me that these teachers were just trying to help and guide me. Many times I just wanted to scream about being deaf with the daily difficulties that hearing people don’t face. This took a long time for me to accept that this was how my life was, and how to be positive about my hearing loss.

Most of the time, I felt a little too cool to ask teachers to repeat anything, ask questions or share my thoughts in class, or stay after class to interact with the teacher. In high school, I was more worried about my social life with classmates than grades, which is quite normal for teenagers. Thankfully, I did manage to graduate from high school with a 3.6 GPA. In each class, from kindergarten through college, I had extra help including interpreters and notetakers. I would study and review the notes every night to prepare myself for quizzes or tests. The notetakers were a necessary help as it was impossible to take detailed notes while visually focusing on the teacher or interpreter. As I look back at my experiences, I realized how critical it was to my education.

Help from the Experts

In addition to a full class load in high school, I had tutors for Math and English as well as speech therapy. I continued speech therapy in college and still continue to work with a therapist to improve my speech. As much as I try to speak clearly, it is something that will always be a work-in-progress, and something I value being able to do. Preparing for the college entrance exams (ACT and/or SAT) was a difficult task for me and I sought help from a retired English teacher to prepare me for this exam. I took the ACT without the time limit, and I ended up doing better than I thought. I highly recommend to anyone who is deaf or hard-of-hearing to take the extra time if you think it would help. However, extra time on standardized assessments must be written into the IEP for it to be accepted for the on ACT or SAT. I was lucky that my parents were able to afford a tutor to prepare me for this exam. I also used this tutor for writing help. My writing skills improved so greatly that it made the dozens of papers I had to write in college a lot easier. The math tutor I worked with throughout high school definitely helped me graduate with my class and was beneficial to my learning style. I know this extra help from experts got me into the college of my dreams.

While in high school, I was itching for more action and wanted out of the Midwest. Not going to college was never really an option for me. My parents and grandparents made sure that I could attend a great college and pushed me to achieve my goals and dreams. To begin my college journey, I visited several schools, which included NTID, University of California, Northridge and Gallaudet. I ultimately chose University of Denver (DU) for several reasons. It was a top-notch University, nationally recognized and they had a great educational support system in place for students with a various range of disabilities.

The transition from high school to college was a difficult one. I thought I was back at camp! Leaving my friends whom I had known my entire life and having to make new friends was a challenge in itself. I was confident that people would like me, but many of them had never been around a hard of hearing person. It ended up being easier than I thought and I made friends that I know I am going to have for life. How? Just be the person you are, follow your interests and everything else will fall into place. 

The best part of college was learning so much about me and who I am; I grew mentally, physically, emotionally and socially. One of the biggest and most surprising challenges that I faced was balancing schoolwork with the activities that I was passionate about pursuing. But who said balancing a social life and classes (work) was easy? Another reason I chose the University of Denver was that I could be in close proximity to Colorado’s playground and the numerous of activities it offered: and the top reason? Skiing. I’ve had a passion for skiing since my involvement with the United States Ski Association in high school and the Edina High School ski racing team. In fact, I joined DU Club Ski Team to continue my passion with ski racing. 

If I Had A Do-Over

If I had to do anything over again, it would be managing my freshman year much differently. For starters, I rushed a fraternity. Ultimately, losing all that study time to social things was not a good idea, and was one of the things that led me to failing my first quarter of college. While I was not prepared to take the job of being a college student seriously, I definitely didn’t realize the consequences of that choice. Luckily, I got a clue during the fall of my sophomore year that I needed to wake up. The grades and low GPA I had earned were simple biofeedback to show me I was not steering toward the degree and eventually a job I wanted. I realized that I had to work harder and focus more. If you want the adventure of a life changing college learning experience, work with your school team and your parents to meet the admission requirements of your dream college. 

Having convenient access to the mountains did present similar problems for my academic life. Finding the balance between schoolwork and skipping classes for the fresh powder was a big challenge. I needed to learn balance and I did. I think it is vital to do well in school, but also take part in teams and other activities outside of the classroom. Remember, it is okay to get hurt and to be challenged; my time on the team taught me that I could make it through the grueling and painful course runs. Without these teams, I would not have developed the motivation, confidence, determination and friendships that I currently have, which has made me a better person. College was a big wake up call for me and it did get my life back on track. If I had a time machine, I’d go back to college and take more advantage of all it had to offer. 

While the transition from college to the work force was a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, I wished I had done a better job being more proactive about getting a job. Having an internship in my major (business and marketing) during college would have helped me be more prepared for a career afterwards, and would have helped me greatly in the current job market.  After I graduated, I traveled to Europe. At the same time, the economy fell off a cliff.  It was a difficult transition going from 20 years of having everything planned weeks ahead of time to not having a daily schedule and looking for a career. This was a huge adjustment for me, but I haven’t given up hope and never will.

While not every experience in college was a great one, I know that the personal growth that occurred from my experiences was worth the ups and downs. If I hadn’t listened and allowed these support systems to guide and help me, I know I wouldn’t be as successful as I am today. I also learned more about who I am and found the engine that I never knew ran inside of me before. I wouldn’t have found that engine without the support of the “team” and the growth experience of college. I am so glad that my parents were a proactive force in my life, which helped me many times, including agreeing to extra help as needed in particular subjects.

Finally, let me leave you with this – Life is Life! I made up this quote one day and it just clicked. As funny as it may sound, I know it is really true that we are just learning from a rollercoaster of ups and downs and seeing what tomorrow brings. Keep swinging and climbing and don’t stop in your own playground, wherever you want your path to lead.  Be proactive, be an advocate, work hard and be the best you can be in what you do in life!

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