Wednesday, November 14, 2001

ADD? Call it a gift

Teacher wins state award

By Valerie Christopher
Enquirer Contributor

        ANDERSON TOWNSHIP — When Judy Gerwe was a high school student in Latonia in the 1950s, teachers told her she would never amount to anything.

        She was always the first to be eliminated in spelling bees, she recalled. Many teachers considered her lucky just to be allowed to attend school.

[photo]    Judy Gerwe, a teacher at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Anderson Township, works with a small group of pupils as they study the concept of equivalent units.

(Dick Swaim photo)
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        “I found it very hard to go to school,” she said.

        “I struggled with reading, writing and listening in class. The only thing I could do was math. In the 1950s, nobody knew what a learning disability was.”

        Ms. Gerwe, 53, has attention deficit disorder (ADD), a learning disability marked by inattention, impulsiveness and, in many cases, hyperactivity. She wasn't diagnosed until she was in her early 40s; now she takes daily medication.

        The diagnosis “opened my life to a whole new world,” she said.

        “I never realized what it was like to be able to sit and concentrate on things. Before, I did not know what was wrong with me — I just knew I was "dumb.'”

        Try telling that to the thousands of students she has taught since then — as well as all the parents she has touched.

        Today, Ms. Gerwe is in her 30th year of teaching. In September she received the Myrtle Miller/Marijane Warner Award from the Ohio Council of Teachers in Mathematics, given each year to an elementary teacher who exhibits exemplary teaching methods.

        “Her disability had nothing to do with the decision-making,” said Mary Jo Doebling, district director at-large for the council. “It was her participation in many different programs and her leadership capabilities that placed her above other candidates.”

        A math specialist for the Hamilton County Educational Service Center, Ms. Gerwe is assigned to Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) School in Anderson Township. In six years there, she expanded the math enrichment program — with the help of 20 parent volunteers — from 15 students in grades 1-8 to 130 today.

        “Her love of math is infectious. She offers my child an opportunity to go deeper with math concepts,” said Nancy Kleespies of Anderson Township, who has three children being taught by Ms. Gerwe.

        Ms. Gerwe was a C student, at best, growing up, because she found processing language difficult.

        “Because I struggled in school, I know where the kids (with ADD) are coming from,” she said. “But there is no excuse not to learn — even for those with ADD.”

        After teaching five years in Covington's public schools, she spent 15 years working with 12- to 15-year-olds at Springer School, a private school in Hyde Park for children with learning disabilities.

        Ms. Gerwe earned her bachelor's degree in 1971 from Thomas More College and her master's in education in 1981 from Xavier University, where she worked with learning- disabled children.

        Donna Markle, an educational aide at IHM, said her daughter, Katy, receives valuable help from Ms. Gerwe. Katy, a sixth-grader, struggles to understand oral language and make basic applications.

        “She used to get so frustrated with math, and I couldn't help her,” Mrs. Markle said. “Her dad couldn't help her. But she is now having her needs met since she's been with Judy.”


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