Letter from the Director of Education

It is the mission of Noorthoek Academy to provide a continuing education in the arts and sciences to students with learning challenges and other intellectual disabilities, with the purpose of expanding horizons, exciting curiosity, and encouraging self-expression.

This academic year brought unique challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students did a phenomenal job of switching to an all-virtual format for class. They became incredibly accomplished at managing Zoom and keeping up with their coursework through email. During the fall 2020 semester, we studied the American government and current events. One of the primary focuses of this semester was understanding the political process and issues related to the presidential election. Students began by delving into the history of the United States and learning how British rule impacted the government that was established. The US Constitution and Bill of Rights were explored along with the present-day impact of these important documents. The progression of voting rights for different individuals over the course of history was examined. We discussed possible disparities that still exist in voting accessibility. Students learned the process of how an individual becomes an elected official. Balance of power between the branches of government was a frequent topic. Students honestly explored some of the political issues that were important to them such as the death penalty, immigration, and religious freedom. One of the highlights of the semester was hearing stories of how some Noorthoek Academy students voted for the first time. The sense of pride and civic responsibility that these students expressed was immeasurable.

Winter semester 2021 was in many ways a continuation of the previous semester. We explored individuals and organizations that are considered American heroes. We began by defining the difference between a true hero, an everyday hero, and a personal hero. Each week was spent exploring heroes in a variety of categories. Many of these heroes were recognizable like Martin Luther King Jr and Harriet Tubman. We also learned about some lesser-known heroes such as Lizzie Jennings and Claudette Colvin who both refused to give up their seats on public transportation before Rosa Parks. Heroes that influenced the disability rights movement like Helen Keller and Judith Heumann were explored. Educational heroes like the Little Rock Nine, Ruby Bridges, and Jaime Escalante inspired students to express their gratitude to their past and present teachers. Clara Barton and Cesar Chavez were examples of individuals who were heroes in areas of health and poverty. Through the variety of topics and American heroes that were introduced, many students took on the challenge of sharing with us their own personal heroes. We learned about important people who shaped the lives of Noorthoek students in big and small ways.

The poems you will read in this compilation are reflections of what has been learned this year. The title of this volume comes from two different poets. Nicole W’s poem entitled Breaking Through is about how her smile is her superpower. She describes it as a beam of sun breaking through the clouds. Paige M uses a similar expression in her poem entitled Helen Keller. Paige addresses how Helen Keller’s breakthrough in learning about her world came with water. The title Breaking Through is a perfect example of the optimism and hope that students had during this unusual and difficult year. While we all desperately wanted to meet in person, a bright spot in our week was getting together through Zoom to learn together and expand our world. It is my sincere hope that as you read this poetry, you hear their experiences and wonder of life. Please listen to the words of these Noorthoek Academy students and allow them to speak to you.

Sandra Barraza

Director of Education, Noorthoek Academy